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Fleeing Their Homelands: Two Generations at Risk?

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — As many as eleven million undocumented immigrants are living in the United States. The biggest fear for many is deportation and separation from loved ones. Now, researchers at the National Institutes of Health studying the mental health risks of World War II evacuation efforts say the impacts of early childhood separation may be far-reaching.

In thousands of U.S. communities, families are living in fear knowing an undocumented parent may be detained and deported without warning. Sister Janice Vanderneck founded Casa San Jose, a Pittsburgh organization, that coordinates services for Latino immigrants.

Sister Vandernick told Ivanhoe, “Living with all that poverty and fear and sadness is going to carry through to the next generation.”

Stephen Gilman, ScD, is with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. A new study of World War II evacuees looks at childhood separation and the risk of mental illness. Gilman and colleagues in Sweden and Finland studied health records of thousands of Finnish children who were evacuated during World War II and placed in foster care in Sweden.

Gilman detailed, “This was a program designed to protect children and essentially what we found is an unintended but long-term consequence of that.”

The social scientists found women who had been child evacuees and their daughters were at greatest risk for being hospitalized for depression and bipolar disorder, even though the daughters were not directly exposed to trauma.

“Perhaps one of the implications of our study is that it’s necessary to consider both short-term, as well as much longer-term environments and experiences of individuals exposed to different types of adversities,” explained Gilman.

Gilman said research now needs to focus on how adversity affects the mental health of parents and their children, so scientists can develop interventions to help.

The researchers did not find any increase in mental health hospitalizations for children of males who had been evacuated. The scientists could also not determine why the daughters of female evacuees had a higher risk of mental illness. They say it’s possible that the evacuees’ experiences affected their development and ultimately their parenting style.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Roque Correa and Kirk Manson, Videographers.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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