BUILD Initiative Blog | Supporting Children in Immigrant Families
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

BUILD Initiative Blog



By  Wendy Cervantes, Director of Immigration and Immigrant Families at CLASP and Rebecca Ullrich, Policy Analyst, Child Care and Early Education at CLASP

There is no denying that immigration policy is a children’s issue. Dramatic policy shifts over the course of the last two years are threatening children’s access to health care and nutrition assistance, undermining families’ economic security, and putting millions of children in danger of being separated from a parent or loved one due to immigration enforcement. This heightened stress and instability is inflicting trauma on a significant number of young children in the U.S., with long-term implications for their health and well-being.

We believe that early childhood stakeholders have an important role to play in ensuring both that immigrant families and the practitioners that serve them have the information and tools they need, and that children’s well-being is prioritized in immigration policy. In the fourth and final webinar in the BUILD Initiative webinar and blog series on the provision of trauma-informed care as it relates to immigration and US immigration policies, we discussed strategies direct service providers and advocates can use to support and welcome immigrant families in early childhood programs, mitigate the effects of trauma, and engage in administrative and legislative advocacy toward better policies for immigrant families. We present some of that information here.

Children are Harmed by Anti-Immigrant Policies and Rhetoric

We conducted interviews of 150 early education teachers, home visitors, and staff; community-based social service providers; and immigrant parents in six states across the country (California, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania). The conversations revealed a distressing picture of fear, stress, and unease that occupy the minds of millions of young children and their parents daily and come with harmful implications for children’s long-term development.

Just some of what we learned includes:

  • Educators with many years of experience describe concerning changes in children’s behavior. A preschool director in Georgia described a five-year-old child whose anxiety was so severe that he was biting his fingertips to the point that they were bleeding.
  • Parent and provider reports of child behaviors and actions suggest that children as young as three are deeply aware of the administration’s anti-immigrant sentiment and the possibility of losing a parent. As a result, they are fearful for their parents’ and their own safety.
  • Families are afraid to leave their homes and encounter immigration enforcement agents, leading them to make dramatic changes to their daily routines.
  • In all six states, providers and parents report elevated concerns about enrolling in or maintaining enrollment in publicly funded programs that support basic needs, including for their citizen children.
  • Providers and parents report increased job loss and more difficulty finding work; overcrowded housing and frequent moving; and more exploitation by employers and landlords.

Early Childhood Stakeholders can Take Action

Child care and early education providers are on the front lines of combatting the effects of toxic stress on young children. Research shows that a safe, nurturing environment with trusted caregivers can act as a buffer when everything else in a child’s world is uncertain. But child care and early education providers must be equipped with the right knowledge and skills to meet the needs of children in immigrant families, and to connect their parents to useful information and resources. Early childhood programs should:

  • Promote trauma-informed care settings to support mental health.
  • Reinforce children’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identities in classroom activities and materials.
  • Evaluate application and enrollment procedures to eliminate barriers and ensure language accessibility.
  • Develop partnerships with immigrant-serving organizations and providers of legal services.
  • Make resources about immigration policy changes available and accessible.
  • Implement “safe space” policies to safeguard your locations against immigration enforcement.

Early childhood stakeholders can also be powerful advocates to ensure that children’s well-being is paramount in immigration policy decisions. Practitioners and advocates can use their child development expertise to help elected officials and state or local agency staff understand the implications of various policy decisions on children’s health and well-being. Specific advocacy opportunities include:

  • Encouraging your member of Congress to co-sponsor or support legislation that protects children affected by immigration enforcement and safeguards schools and other locations from enforcement actions.
  • Encouraging public officials and program administrators to issue guidance on data privacy and immigrant eligibility for public benefits; share information about major policy changes; and disseminate model “safe space” policies for early childhood programs and other providers that serve children.
  • Fight back against legislation that would increase cooperation between state/local police or other government officials and federal immigration agents; deny immigrants and their families access to public benefits; or undermine immigrants’ economic security and mobility.
  • Support legislation that extends eligibility for public health insurance and other benefits to all immigrants; reinforces immigrant families’ safety in public schools and other public spaces; and extends in-state tuition and tuition assistance to Dreamers.

Our Future Depends on the Steps We Take Now

Children of immigrants matter to America’s future. Our public policies must be designed to ensure that all children are able to achieve their full potential. We invite you to listen to the full recording of our July 18 webinar for more information on the steps we believe should be taken right now.



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