Research finds differences between immigrant and native families on child maltreatment

Research funded by the American Humane Association has identified significant differences between immigrant families and native families regarding risk factors for child maltreatment.

The research found that children of natives are nearly 8 times more likely than children of immigrants to be victims of physical neglect (i.e., failure to provide), while children of immigrants are more than twice as likely as children of natives to experience emotional abuse. In addition, parental alcohol abuse and drug abuse were each 3 times more prevalent in households with native parents than in households with immigrant parents.

"The data collected and evaluated through this research is valuable because it identifies significant differences in risk factors between children of immigrants and children of natives — information that can be useful to child welfare systems and practitioners in working more effectively with families," said Sonia Velazquez, senior vice president of child welfare for American Humane Association. "Having this knowledge and awareness, social workers and agencies can take the native/immigrant differences into account when investigating maltreatment, as well as in their ongoing work with families in the child protection system, to better protect children and support families."

American Humane Association funded the research, which was also supported by the Migration and Child Welfare National Network (MCWNN). The research is presented in two briefs, "Children of Immigrants in the Child Welfare System: Findings From the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being" and "Latino Children of Immigrants in the Child Welfare System: Findings From the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being," posted online at The research was conducted by Alan J. Dettlaff, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Ilze Earner, Ph.D., assistant professor at Hunter College School of Social Work.

Children of immigrants represent one of the country's most vulnerable populations and one of the least likely groups to receive the services for which they are legally eligible. About 5 million children in the U.S. have at least one undocumented parent, and although a large majority of these children are U.S. citizens by birth, they are increasingly at risk for separation from their parents. When this occurs, children are faced with permanent traumatic consequences.

To support child welfare professionals in addressing the specific needs of the immigrant population, a variety of information and resources on child welfare and migration are available on American Humane Association's website, including "A Social Worker's Tool Kit for Working With Immigrant Families."


American Humane Association


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