An ecological expansion of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) framework to include threat and deprivation associated with U.S. immigration policies and enforcement practices: An examination of the Latinx immigrant experience

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Aug;282:114126. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114126. Epub 2021 Jun 12.


The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) framework has contributed to advances in developmental science by examining the interdependent and cumulative nature of adverse childhood environmental exposures on life trajectories. Missing from the ACEs framework, however, is the role of pervasive and systematic oppression that afflicts certain racialized groups and that leads to persistent threat and deprivation. In the case of children from immigrant parents, the consequence of a limited ACEs framework is that clinicians and researchers fail to address the psychological violence inflicted on children from increasingly restrictive immigration policies, ramped up immigration enforcement, and national anti-immigration rhetoric. Drawing on the literature with Latinx children, the objective of this conceptual article is to integrate the ecological model with the dimensional model of childhood adversity and psychopathology to highlight how direct experience of detention and deportation, threat of detention and deportation, and exposure to systemic marginalization and deprivation are adverse experiences for many Latinx children in immigrant families. This article highlights that to reduce bias and improve developmental science and practice with immigrants and with U.S.-born children of immigrants, there must be an inclusion of immigration-related threat and deprivation into the ACEs framework. We conclude with a practical and ethical discussion of screening and assessing ACEs in clinical and research settings, using an expanded ecological framework that includes immigration-related threat and deprivation.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experience; Deprivation; Health; Immigration; Latinx; Mental health; Screening; Threat.

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Child
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Policy