SPH Awarded $2.66 Million to Study Latino Youth Wellness

A GW-led research team will examine how health and academic success of Latino youth in immigrant families is rooted in community strength.

Kathleen Roche
Kathleen Roche, an associate professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, will study Latino youth in immigrant families as part of an NIH-funded grant. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
October 03, 2017

A Milken Institute School of Public Health researcher was awarded $2.66 million to study Latino youth in immigrant families in the hopes of informing interventions that strengthen families, schools and neighborhoods in ways that help young people be healthy and academically successful.

Kathleen Roche, an associate professor in the department of prevention and community health, will lead the National Institutes of Health-funded study.

“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,” she said. “In the course of this five-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.”

Dr. Roche will direct the project with support from investigators within GW and from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Arizona State University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan. The field work is located in Atlanta.

The team will recruit 600 Latino middle school students, ages 11 to 14, in the Cobb County School District in suburban Atlanta. In addition, the researchers will also recruit 300 mothers or mother-like figures such as grandmothers. These mother-youth duos will participate in surveys 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. Unlike cities that have established Latino enclaves, however, emerging immigrant destinations often are unaccustomed to new immigrants. This results in high levels of social isolation, discrimination, language barriers and stress, among Latino families, 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 sixth 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 well being 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.

The stressors characteristic of adolescence could be exacerbated by stress related to immigration for these youth and their families, said co-investigator Sharon Lambert, an associate professor of clinical and community psychology at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“In this study, we will have the opportunity to find out how peer, school and neighborhood experiences can promote positive youth and family adjustment,” Dr. Lambert said. “We’re seeking to find not just challenges in the midst of stress, but also competence, strength and resilience.”

This line of research could have significant implications in understanding needs in the American education system. In less than 10 years, one-third of K-12 students in the United States will be Latino.

“The results of the study could help policymakers devise interventions to help immigrant families, and especially children, adapt and thrive in the United States,” Dr. Roche said.

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.

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