UCSB Demographer Champions Health Care for Unaccompanied Migrant Children

The arguments often overlook an especially vulnerable group of migrants — children. Since 2004, some 70,000 kids have immigrated on their own to the United States, without parents, guardians, or legal documents. Sometimes referred to as “the lost boys and girls of the Americas,” their numbers are growing, with nearly 14,000 arriving in 2012 alone.

The rise is seen largely as a result of increasingly rampant and vicious crime, corruption, and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico — four countries that together account for 97 percent of these “unaccompanied alien children.” Fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries and taking often harrowing journeys to enter the U.S., they’re seeking a better life.

Are they getting it?

Assessing these children’s health and access to health care is one way of answering that question, according to demographer and migration scholar Elizabeth G. Kennedy, a doctoral candidate in geography at UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University. In a new article published online today by JAMA Pediatrics, Kennedy argues that an apparent dearth in mental health services for migrant youth is exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones — for the kids and for the country at large.

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