Academic journal article Social Work Research

Service Utilization for Latino Children in Mixed-Status Families

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Service Utilization for Latino Children in Mixed-Status Families

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of 1996 welfare and immigration reforms, service utilization is particularly challenging for mixed-status families in which U.S.-born children live with undocumented parents. This study used both qualitative interview data and quantitative survey data to document Latino immigrant parents' service utilization for their U.S.-born children and the perceived impact of the existence of detention and deportation on their service utilization. Results indicate that Latino families headed by undocumented parents accessed services for their citizen children at a level similar to that of Latino families headed by documented parents. Although undocumented participants reported that detention and deportation affected their service utilization, their social networks embodied in Latino/a relationships helped them to navigate systems, increased their efficacy, counteracted their fears, and contributed to their family resiliency. Hospitals and schools, in particular, served as the entry points for Latino immigrant families to access a broad range of services. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: immigration and welfare systems; Latino; mixed-status immigrant family; service utilization; undocumented immigrant


Scholars who explore immigrants' welfare participation and service use in Western countries frequently ask similar questions (Barrett & McCarthy, 2008): Are immigrants eligible to receive social services and welfare benefits? If they are eligible, what are the barriers that complicate immigrants' ability to participate in programs or access services? In this article, we address the question: How have recent changes in welfare and immigration policy--and the upsurge in raids, detentions, and deportations--affected undocumented Latino immigrants' parents' service utilization for their U.S.-born citizen children?

The literature on international migration has examined multiple factors to explain immigrants' behavior with regard to accessing welfare benefits and social services; scholars have underscored the importance of immigration-related factors in understanding service utilization among immigrant groups. Some have argued that service utilization may be shaped by cultural values that immigrants bring from their countries and cultures of origins. For example, Asian immigrants, in general, have demonstrated low rates of any type of mental health-related service use even after other individual and structural factors were controlled (Abe-Kim et al., 2007; Leduc & Proulx, 2004); among Latino immigrants, Mexicans and Latino men were less likely to use mental health services, which may reflect culturally specific gender expectations (Fortuna, Porche, & Alegria, 2008). Scholars have also argued that immigrants face different economic and social opportunities and challenges because of level of education, English proficiency at the time of migration, areas of initial resettlement, family members' legal status, and available resources, all of which contribute to different access to service programs (Berk, Schur, Chavez, & Frankel, 2000; Bowden, Rhodes, Wilkin, & Jolly, 2006; Jacobs, Shepard, Suaya, & Stone, 2004).

Legal status is a key factor affecting immigrants' service use behavior; for example, Alegria et al. (2007) indicated that rates of mental health service use were higher among Puerto Ricans and U.S.-born Latinos than among foreign-born Latinos (non-Puerto Ricans). For mixed-status immigrant families in the United States--that is, families in which one or more parents is a noncitizen and one or more children is a citizen, members within the same family have differing eligibility for and access to social services. Scholars have indicated that both children's and parents' legal status affect the service utilization for the child; U.S.-born children with noncitizen parents were at a disadvantage when compared with children with citizen parents (Huang, Yu, & Ledsky, 2006). …

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