Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health


Health Science and Human Ecology

First Reader/Committee Chair

Otiniano-Verissimo, Angie


Background - The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S. southern border has significantly increased. Each year, children are forced to flee from their native countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These countries form the Northern Triangle region of Central America, which is recognized as “one of the most dangerous places on earth” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Children from this region, experience significant trauma during their pre-migration, in-transit, and post-migration journey. This raises significant concerns about potential mental health problems. For this reason, access to mental health services for UMCs is critical (Alvarez & Alegria, 2016).

Objective - The purpose of this study is to examine the traumatic experiences UMCs face during their pre-migration, in-transit, and post-migration journey to the U.S. as well as its impact on mental health. Since UMCs are at a higher risk for mental health problems, it is critical to discuss how their mental health needs are being addressed.

Study Design - This is a qualitative research study that used semi-structured in-depth interviews for data collection. All interviews were conducted individually. The study employed an inductive thematic approach and utilized open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. This form of coding allowed for connections to be made among the responses provided by the participants. Themes and subthemes were further verified.

Participants/setting - Individuals participating in this study had extensive professional experience working with unaccompanied migrant youth. Participants were provided a set of interview questions prior to the interview. Interviews were scheduled based on the participant’s availability and were conducted via Zoom or via phone call. Those who were not able to interview were provided the interview questions via email.

Results – Mental health services are limited for UMCs released from federal custody. These children depend on community agencies to provide these services.

Conclusion – UMCs are known to be extremely resilient. These children are able to recover from the trauma experienced during their pre-migration to post-migration journey north. To better support their progress, UMCs need to have access to mental health services.