Working with Unaccompanied and Recent Immigrant Youth: A Trauma Informed Approach

Over the last several years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children in different parts of the world being forced to migrate from their countries. Whether due to gang violence, poverty or war, these children migrate at times unaccompanied and at times with their parents. They are positively welcomed into the new country sometimes but mostly are not only not fully welcomed, and may be exposed to harsh circumstances by adults with no experience in dealing with child mental health. In all of these instances, there is trauma associated with the migration. The decision to migrate is a complex one and traumatic experiences occur pre-, during, and post migration. The toll on the mental health of children and youth is large. This symposium will address the impact of trauma on children and youth during different phases of the migration experience as well as the impact of parental separations, including the ongoing anxiety and vigilance in children with undocumented immigrant parents. Trauma-informed techniques to help children and their families cope and heal from these experiences will be reviewed. Effective methods for guiding caregivers on how to talk to children and adolescents about separation will be offered with focus on the process of assessing sources of resilience and vulnerability among families in transition. Finally, recognizing the toll that this difficult work has on the mental health professionals that work with these children and youth, strategies to reduce the impact of secondary traumatic stress will be reviewed..

Elena Reyes

Florida State University College of Medicine. United States

Dr. Reyes is a Professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine and a clinical psychologist with specialty in pediatric psychology, cross-cultural medicine, health disparities and integrated primary care. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Florida State University and completed an Internship at the Baylor College of Medicine. She is a founding faculty of the Florida State University College of Medicine. She is currently the Regional Director for the College of Medicine in Southwest Florida where she oversees the educational and research programs at the Isabel Collier Read Medical Campus, a rural teaching site with focus on Latino migrant farmworkers and immigrant populations. She is the Director of the Clinical Health Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and the Director of the FSU Center for Child Stress & Health, a partner in the SAMHSA funded National Child Traumatic Stress Network. As an expert in Latino mental health, specifically the impact of immigration and acculturation on family functioning and children’s psychological development, she has developed a clinical research site where patients can be provided culturally and linguistically appropriate care. She has worked with immigrant children and migrant farm working families for over 25 years. She and her team develop culturally and linguistically appropriate resources to work with Latino children and families in integrated primary care where physicians and psychologists work together to increase access to mental health services. The team also provides national trainings for healthcare providers and early childhood educators around issues of child trauma, especially trauma resulting from immigration and acculturation.




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