Mitigating the Effects of Trauma among Young Children of Immigrants and Refugees: The Role of Early Childhood Programs
A child’s early years are a time of exceptional growth, and ones that can be profoundly affected by traumatic experiences. Research has firmly disproven the idea that infants and toddlers are “too young” to be affected by such experiences, leading to an increased awareness of the need for trauma-informed services for children. Early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs have the potential to play a central role in identifying and addressing the effects of trauma, with lifelong benefits.
Discussions of how to build a trauma-informed approach into ECEC programs, however, generally do not take into account the unique experiences of children of refugees and other immigrants. For example, children who are themselves refugees may have experienced persecution and flight, while U.S.-born children with refugee parents may be affected by such experiences secondhand. Other postmigration stressors, such as chronic exposure to discrimination or, among families with unauthorized immigrant members, fear of deportation can also affect young children’s socioemotional and cognitive development.
This issue brief explores the types of trauma that may affect young children in immigrant families, what the effects of those experiences may be, and what can be done to protect children against them. Among these opportunities: promoting the systematic use of mental health screening tools that are appropriate both for young children and for use across cultures, and boosting collaboration between ECEC providers, health services, and organizations that work with immigrants to ensure that young children and their families are referred to needed services in a timely fashion.
II. Young Children of Immigrants and Refugees in the United States
III. The Impacts of Trauma on Child Development
IV. Gaps in Services to Address Trauma
V. Opportunities to Expand Access to Trauma-Informed Services and Mental Health Supports