Milken Institute School of Public Health Awarded $2.66 Million for Project to Identify How Community Settings and Families Promote Latino Youth’s Health and Wellbeing

WASHINGTON, DC (September 28, 2017)—The Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) today announced receiving $2.66 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study Latino youth in immigrant families in the hopes of informing interventions that strengthen families, schools and neighborhoods in ways that can help keep young people healthy and academically successful.

“Many of these children and teens are at elevated risk for substance abuse, mental health problems, and risky behavior, which if not addressed have adverse lifelong consequences for health and social functioning,” says Principal Investigator Kathleen Roche, MSW, PhD, an associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “In the course of this 5-year study, we hope to identify some solutions that could support Latino immigrant parents’ efforts to successfully raise their children during the challenging adolescent years.”

The project is directed by Roche with support from investigators from within GW and from Georgia State University in Atlanta (where field work is located), Arizona State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Michigan. The project is supported with a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is part of the NIH.

The team will recruit 600 Latino youth, ages 11 to 14, who are attending middle school in the Cobb County School District in suburban Atlanta. In addition, the researchers will also recruit corresponding 300 mothers or mother-like figures such as grandmothers.  These mother-youth dyads will participate in surveys occurring twice a year over the course of four years.

Cobb County, like other areas of the United States, has seen rapid growth of new arrivals from Mexico and Central America. But unlike cities that have established Latino enclaves, emerging immigrant destinations often are unaccustomed to new immigrants, resulting in Latino families experiencing high levels of social isolation, discrimination, language barriers and stress, particularly for those who are undocumented.

By following families over time, the researchers will identify how neighborhood and school settings shape Latino youth’s adjustment during transitions from 6th through 11th grade. The investigators will explore how discrimination, language barriers and the presence of other Latinos in neighborhood and school settings affect parenting and stress among immigrant Latino families.  They will then identify links between these family processes and Latino youth’s wellbeing over time.

The study’s findings might ultimately help identify the kinds of policies and family supports that alleviate stress on youth, protecting them from developing poor health and adjustment problems.

“For these youth and their families, the stressors characteristic of adolescence may be exacerbated by stress related to immigration. Still many are doing well,” says Co-investigator Sharon Lambert, PhD, an associate professor of clinical and community psychology at GW’s Columbian College. “In this study, we will have the opportunity to find out how peer, school, and neighborhood experiences can promote positive youth and family adjustment. We’re seeking to find not just challenges in the midst of stress, but also competence, strength, and resilience.”

One-third of K-12 U.S. students will be Latino in less than ten years. “The results of the study could help policymakers devise interventions to help immigrant families, and especially children, adapt and thrive in the United States,” adds Roche.