Child immigrants rescued, cast adrift

  • January 22, 2010
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Haitian children

I worry about the Haitian child immigrants.

In addition to adjusting to terrible losses and a new life in a new land, they run great risks of psychological disturbances.

I wrote in Is It Night or Day?: “Stories of other immigrant children often aren’t featured in history books either. For many reasons — war, famine, political persecution, economic hardship, natural disasters — children have been painfully separated from their parents and forced to find a new life. These drastic uprootings cast these young people adrift, even as they are rescued.”

Child immigrants are at great risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — roughly 40 percent, according to some studies. Other children who develop PTSD include:

  • 100 percent of children who witness a parental homicide or sexual assault
  • 90 percent of sexually abused children
  • 77 percent of children exposed to a school shooting
  • 33 percent of urban youth exposed to community violence develop PTSD.

Child immigrants can be remarkably resilient, depending upon their experiences before they left their homeland and after they arrive in their new country. Studies show that children most at risk of developing PTSD lived without their parents or with parents who had poor coping skills in their homeland. Then, they were placed in new stressful family situations, further contributing to their problems.

A child’s temperament determined his or her adaptability. How well a child coped also depended upon the new family’s cohesion, support and psychological health, as well as peer and community support.

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