Objectives: To compare differences between homeless and at-risk native-born adolescents versus adolescents who immigrated to the United States in those receiving services at a regional center for at-risk youth in southern California: their exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), high-risk behaviors they engage in, and their areas of environmental insecurity. Methods: Survey data was collected from adolescents between 2012-2019 at Youth Hope, a center for homeless, runaway, or at-risk youth in San Bernardino county, CA. Subjects under 21 years old with identifiable birth locations were selected. Those born outside the United States were analyzed as immigrant subpopulation, and those born in United States were analyzed as the native-born subpopulation irrespective of parent birthplace. Results: Inclusion criteria included data from 999 native-born adolescents and 46 immigrant adolescents. Mean age was 16.6 years (native) and 15.5 years (immigrant). Groups were 43% female (native) and 48% female (immigrant). Between the two groups, native-born adolescents were significantly more likely to: have divorced parents, have children, run away from home, not be enrolled in school, drink alcohol, and have parents or family with drug or alcohol problems (p<0.05) (Table 1). Conversely, immigrant adolescents had a significantly higher percentage of protective factors such as: parents being married, living at home, daily contact with parents, school enrollment, not requesting assistance with food, abstinence from drugs or alcohol, no family with drug or alcohol abuse, no history of mental illness or experience with physical/verbal/sexual abuse (p<0.05) (Graph 1). Discussion: While immigration to the United States brings its own challenges, immigrant adolescents at this center for homeless and at-risk youth do not have increased rates of adverse childhood experiences, nor exposure to high-risk behaviors which can exacerbate their at-risk status and predispose to future adverse events. Once in the United States, immigrants have significantly more protective factors compared to their native-born counterparts. Reasons for this can be multiple: being connected with social services via immigration office; less aversion or skeptical attitudes towards social safety net services; and the protective factors of immigration including close-knit families with strong family ties, cultural norms from their home country, and the need to support one another while acclimating to a new culture. While policymakers and advocacy efforts should continue to focus on this vulnerable population, it should be matched by efforts geared towards native-born at-risk youth, who in total may have more ACEs, high-risk behaviors, and subsequent adverse outcomes.

Table 1

Summary statistics between domestic-born and immigrant adolescents at Youth Hope, represented as percentage of each group's survey responses. NS = not significant.

Table 1

Summary statistics between domestic-born and immigrant adolescents at Youth Hope, represented as percentage of each group's survey responses. NS = not significant.

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Graph 1 Protective factors against ACEs or high-risk behaviors, all of which favor the immigrant adolescents. All comparisons between the two groups are statistically significant (p<0.05).

Graph 1 Protective factors against ACEs or high-risk behaviors, all of which favor the immigrant adolescents. All comparisons between the two groups are statistically significant (p<0.05).

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