Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1155–1167 | Cite as

Immigrant Parent Legal Status, Parent–Child Relationships, and Child Social Emotional Wellbeing: A Middle Childhood Perspective

Original Paper


Immigrant parent legal status is an important, but understudied aspect of children’s developmental contexts that can affect their social emotional wellbeing. The present study used the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System to explore the influence of parents’ legal status on the social emotional wellbeing of 7–10 year old U.S.-born children of immigrant parents from Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Central America. Aspects of parent–child relationships, measured via the Parent–Child Relationship Questionnaire , were also explored as potential moderators. One hundred and eighty families were recruited via school and community outreach. Forty-nine percent of participating families were mixed-status. Results indicate that children in mixed-status families experience higher levels of anxiety, but lower levels of hyperactivity, and that parent–child communication moderates the relationship between parent legal status and the child’s hyperactivity. Results further indicate overall high levels of functioning among all families, regardless of parent legal status, across several domains of parent–child relationships. Findings suggest the importance of assessing for internalizing symptoms among children in mixed-status families as well as the potential for building on family strengths in the design of programs and policies to support immigrant families.


Middle childhood Social emotional development Mixed-status families Immigrant families Parent–child relationships 


  1. Achenbach, T. (1991). Manual for the child behavior checklist/4–18 and 1991 Profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms and profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, B., Cisneros, E. M., & Telles, A. (2015). The children left behind: The impact of parental deportation on mental health. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 386–392. doi: 10.1007/s10826-013-9848-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Appleyard, K., Egeland, B., Dulmen, M. H., & Alan, Sroufe L. (2005). When more is not better: The role of cumulative risk in child behavior outcomes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(3), 235–245. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00351.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Arbona, C., Olvera, N., Rodriguez, N., Hagan, J., Linares, A., & Wisener, M. (2011). Acculturative stress among authorized and unauthorized Latino immigrants in the United States. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 32, 362–384. doi: 10.1177/0739986310373210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Associated Press. (2015). Key issues in states’ lawsuit over immigration. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  7. Brabeck, K. M., Lykes, M. L. B., & Hershberg, R. (2011). Framing immigration to and deportation from the United States: Central American immigrants make meaning of their experiences. Community, Work, and Family, 13(3), 275–296. doi: 10.1080/13668803.2010.520840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brabeck, K. M., & Xu, Q. (2010). The impact of detention and deportation on Latino immigrant children and families: A quantitative exploration. Hispanic Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 32, 341–361. doi: 10.1177/0739986310374053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22, 723–742. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.22.6.723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Calzada, E., Barajas-Gonzalez, R. B., Huang, K. Y., & Brotman, L. (2015). Early childhood internalizing problems in Mexican- and Dominican-origin children: The role of cultural socialization and parenting practices. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology,. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2015.1041593.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Capps, R., Castaneda, R.M., Chaudry, A. & Santos, R. (2007). Paying the price: The impact of immigration raids on America’s children. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. Retrieved from:
  12. Chaudry, A., Capps, R., Pedroza, J., Castaneda, R. M., Santos, R. & Scott, M. M. (2010). Facing our future: Children in the aftermath of immigration enforcement. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. Retrieved from
  13. Conger, R. D., Ge, X., Elder, G. H., Jr., Lorenz, F. O., & Simons, R. L. (1994). Economic stress, coercive family process, and developmental problems of adolescents. Child Development, 65, 541–561. Retrieved from
  14. Crosnoe, R. (2006). Mexican roots, American schools: Helping Mexican immigrant children succeed. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Delva, J., Horner, P., Martinez, R., Sanders, L., Lopez, W.D., & Doering-White, W. (2013). Mental health problems of children of unauthorized parents in the United States: A hidden crisis. Journal of Community Positive Practices, XIII (3), 25–35. Retrieved from
  16. Dixon, S. V., Graber, J. A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2008). The roles of respect for parental authority and parenting practices in parent–child conflict among African American, Latino, and European American families. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.1.1.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Dowdy, E., Ritchey, K., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2010). School-based screening: A population-based approach to inform and monitory children’s mental health needs. School Mental Health, 2(4), 166–176. doi: 10.1007/s12310-010-9036-3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Early, J., Davis, S. W., Quandt, S. A., Rao, P., Snively, B. M., & Arcury, T. A. (2006). Housing characteristics of farmworker families in North Carolina. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 8, 173–184. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20945.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Edelbrock, C., Costello, A. J., Dulcan, M. K., Conover, N. C., & Kala, R. (1986). Parent–child agreement on child psychiatric symptoms assessed via structured interview. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 181–190. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1986.tb02329.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Flores, Y. G. (2013). Chicana and Chicano mental health. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fuller, B., & García Coll, C. (2010). Learning from Latinos: Contexts, families, and child development in motion. Developmental Psychology, 46(3), 559–565. doi: 10.1037/a0019412.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. García Coll, C. & Szalacha, L. (2004). The multiple contexts of middle childhood. The future of children, 14 (2), 81–97. Retrieved from
  23. Gassman-Pines, A. (2015). Effects of Mexican immigrant parents’ daily workplace discrimination on child behavior and functioning. Child Development, 00, 1–16. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12378.Google Scholar
  24. Graham, J. W. (2009). Missing data analysis: Making it work in the real world. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 549–576. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085530.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Human Impact Partners. (2013). Family unity, family health: How family-focused immigration reform will mean better health for children and families. Oakland, CA: Author. Retrieved from:
  26. Jensen, P. S., Rubio-Stipec, M., Canino, G., Bird, H., Dulcan, M., Schwab-Stone, M. E., & Lahey, B. E. (1999). Parent and child contributions to diagnosis of mental disorder: Are both informants always necessary?. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(12), 1569–1579. doi: 10.1037/1040-3590.20.2.175.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Kalil, A., & Ziol-Guest, K. (2009). Welfare reform and health among the children of immigrants. In J. Ziliak (Ed.), Welfare reform and its long-term consequences for America’s poor (pp. 308–336). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kamphaus, R. W., & Reynolds, C. R. (2006). Parenting relationship questionnaire (PRQ). Bloomington, MN: Pearson Assessments.Google Scholar
  29. Kamphaus, R. W., & Reynolds, C. R. (2007). Behavior assessment system for children—second edition (BASC-2): behavioral and emotional screening system (BESS). Bloomington, MN: Pearson.Google Scholar
  30. Kashani, J. H., Orvaschel, H., Burk, J. P., & Reid, J. C. (1985). Informant variance: The issue of parent–child disagreement. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 437–441. doi: 10.1016/S0002-7138(09)60561-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kerns, K. E., & Brumariu, L. E. (2014). Is insecure parent–child attachment a risk factor for the development of anxiety in childhood and adolescence? Child Development Perspectives, 8(1), 12–17. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12054.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Colpe, L. J., Hiripi, E., Mroczek, D. K., Normand, S. L., et al. (2002). Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in nonspecific psychological distress. Psychological Medicine, 32, 959–976.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Lansdale, N. S., Hardie, J. H., Oropesa, R. S., & Hillemeier, M. M. (2015). Behavioral functioning among Mexican-origin children: Does legal status matter? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(1), 2–18. doi: 10.1177/0022146514567896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lykes, M. B., Brabeck, K. M., & Hunter, C. (2013). Exploring parent–child communication in the context of threat: Mixed-status families facing detention and deportation in post 9/11 USA. Community, Work and Family, 16(2), 123–146. doi: 10.1080/13668803.2012.752997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Migration Policy Institute. (2014). Profile of the unauthorized population: United States. Retrieved from
  36. Oades-Sese, G. V., & Li, Y. (2011). Attachment relationships as predictors of language skills for at-risk bilingual preschool children. Psychology in the Schools, 47(7), 702–722. doi: 10.1002/pits.20583.Google Scholar
  37. Ortega, A. N., Horwitz, S. M., Fang, H., Kuo, A. A., Wallace, S. P., & Inkelas, M. (2009). Documentation status and parental concerns about development in young U.S. children of Mexican origin. Academic Pediatrics, 9, 278–282. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2009.02.007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Perreira, K., Chapman, M., Potochnick, S., Ko, L., Smith, T., Perreira, K., & Livas-Stein, G. (2008). Migration and mental health: Latino youth and parents adapting to life in the American south. Final report on the Latino Migration, Health and Adaptation Study. Carolina Population CenterGoogle Scholar
  39. Rutter, M. (1979). Protective factors in children’s responses to stress and disadvantage. In M. W. Kent & J. E. Rolf (Eds.), Primary prevention of psychopathology. Social competence in children (Vol. 3, pp. 49–74). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  40. Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review81(3), 438–473. Retrieved from
  41. Thorell, L. B., Rydell, A. M., & Bohlin, G. (2012). Parent–child attachment and executive functioning in relation to ADHD symptoms in middle childhood. Attachment and Human Development, 5, 517–532. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2012.706396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (2014). FY 2014 ICE Immigration Removals. Retrieved from:
  43. Viruell-Fuentes, E. A., Miranda, P. Y., & Abdulrahim, S. (2012). More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health. Social Science and Medicine, 75, 2099–2106. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.12.037.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Widaman, K. (2006). Missing data: What to do with or without them. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71(3), 42–64.Google Scholar
  45. Xu, Q., & Brabeck, K. M. (2012). Service utilization for Latino children in mixed-status families. Social Work Research, 36(1). Retrieved from
  46. Yoshikawa, H. (2011). Immigrants raising citizens: Unauthorized parents and their young children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  47. Yoshikawa, H., Godfrey, E. B., & Rivera, A. C. (2008). Access to institutional resources as a measure of social exclusion: Relations with family process and cognitive development in the context of immigration. New Directions for Child & Adolescent Development, 121, 63–86. doi: 10.1002/cd.223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yoshikawa, H., & Kalil, A. (2011). The effects of parental unauthorized status on the developmental contexts of young children in immigrant families. Child Development Perspectives, 5, 291–297. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00204.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zayas, L. (2015). Forgotten citizens: Deportation, children, and the making of American exiles and orphans. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Counseling, Educational Leadership and School Psychology, Feinstein School of Education and Human DevelopmentRhode Island CollegeProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Center for Optimized Student Support, Lynch School of EducationBoston CollegeChestnut HillUSA

Personalised recommendations