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CGJ Intern Update from Maitte Barrientos

This summer at the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts I’ve been able to assist in providing representation and resources to low-income children and youth in immigration, education, and child welfare matters. My experience at the CLCM has opened my eyes to the tremendous amount of immigrant children in need of mental health care and the barriers that they face in accessing mental health services. The mental health trajectories of immigrant and refugee children are diverse.  An estimated 92% of immigrant and refugees deemed in need of mental health services never receive them.  Needed treatment includes high rates of trauma, anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, PTSD, and adjustment disorder.

The immigration process involves separation from country of origin, family members, and familiar customs; exposure to a new physical environment; and navigation of unfamiliar cultural contexts. Stresses in the immigration experience can cause or exacerbate mental health difficulties.  These may have occurred in the child’s home country (such as substandard living conditions), abuse, neglect, poor physical health, community violence, or lack of support.  The high level of potential trauma before and during migration may lead to high levels of mental illness among migrant children and young adults. Common barriers to a child or young adult in obtaining adequate mental health services are distrust of authority, fear of stigma, language and cultural barriers, as well as primacy and prioritization of resettlement stressors.

Working with the CLCM I have been able to assist many children in more than just a legal capacity.  I have been able to assist them firsthand in obtaining health insurance, a therapist, safe home environment, and support from various educative community organizations.

Similarly, I have also participated in opportunities to educate the community in Lynn about their legal rights as undocumented immigrants in areas such as mental health access. As I previously mentioned in my last blog post, Lynn is a very poor community with a high number of Spanish speaking immigrants who lack access to adequate housing, food, and health access.  However, as part of the CLCM staff I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to assist these children and their families in all areas of their lives.  I have been given the opportunity not only to work as their legal advocates, but also as an educative voice in their community.

Working hand-in-hand with these children in the community has made me very grateful for the opportunity I have had to work for the CLCM.

It has been a constant reminder of why I aspired to become an attorney in the first place.  I am glad I work for an organization that goes above and beyond their ethical duties in order to facilitate the tough transition for minors coming from a different country.

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern.  The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.