Comparative Effectiveness Research
April 2013

Unnecessary SufferingPotential Unmet Mental Health Needs of Unaccompanied Alien Children

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: San Diego State University, San Diego, and University of California, Santa Barbara, California.

JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(4):319-320. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.1382

Mental illness is one of the most prevalent health problems among children worldwide, with displaced children having a substantially greater burden of illness.1 Yet, our health care system is not recognizing or addressing the needs of potentially the most vulnerable subset of displaced children in the United States: unaccompanied alien children (UAC).

Unaccompanied alien children immigrate to the United States without a parent or legal guardian and without legal documents. Almost 70 000 have arrived since 2004, and their numbers are rapidly growing, with 14 500 arriving in fiscal year 2012.2 That influx is even greater than the 13 000 unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs) brought to the United States since 1980. Like URMs, UAC flee persecution and widespread violence, leading some to call UAC the “lost boys and girls”2 of the Americas.

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