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Unaccompanied minors, refugees, child migration, Central America, post-release services


Between October 2013 and July 2016, over 156,000 children travelling without their guardians were apprehended at the U.S.–Mexico border and transferred to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). During that same period, ORR placed over 123,000 unaccompanied migrant youth – predominantly from Central America – with a parent or other adult sponsor residing in the U.S. Following placement, local communities are tasked with integrating migrant youth, many of whom experience pre- and in-transit migration traumas, family separation, limited/interrupted schooling, and unauthorised legal status, placing them at heightened risk for psychological distress, academic disengagement, maltreatment, and human trafficking. Nonetheless, fewer than 10% of young people receive formal post-release services (PRS). This paper addresses the paucity of research on the experiences of the 90% of children and youth without access to PRS. To bridge this gap, this article: (a) describes the post-release experiences of unaccompanied youth, focusing on legal, family, health, and educational contexts; (b) identifies methodological and ethical challenges and solutions in conducting research with this population of young people and their families; and (c) proposes research to identify structural challenges to the provision of services and to inform best practices in support of unaccompanied youth.