Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Edward Bennett

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The development of the thesis project “Voices from Immigrant Youth: Perceptions of their Involvement with the Canadian Justice System. A Qualitative Study” satisfies two purposes. First, it fulfills an academic requirement that I have to meet in order to obtain the Masters of Arts in Community Psychology, and, second, it explores an issue that was identifies as a social concern by members of the Latin American community in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The study explores the issues faced by Latin American immigrant youth in their process of adapting to Canadian society, and highlights their experiences and perceptions regarding their involvement with the Canadian justice system as well as their need for support and services. The study also offers recommendations geared to improve the well-being of immigrant youth. Methodologically, a qualitative method of inquiry guided the study. It focused on obtaining in-depth and detailed information about this social phenomenon that concerned some members and parents of the Latin American community in Kitchener-Waterloo. The participatory-action research approach allowed community members to participate in the study through their involvement with the Community Support Group. This group supported the study by guiding and providing feedback to the research, reaching participants, and validating and checking my perceptions regarding the Latin American community. Data, rich in content, were collected from members of the Community Support Group and in-depth individual interviews with the nine Latin American youth, two parents, and two service providers. Theories such as the phenomenological paradigm of inquiry, the ecological paradigm, and the promotion-prevention-protection continuum were used in the interpretation and analysis of the information. The findings show that for the participants, immigration to Canada and the acculturation process was a highly demanding period in their lives. It brought pressures and challenges for them, in a time in which they were also facing the developmental tasks of adolescence. The findings show that participants and their families were experiencing risk factors associated with socio-economic and environmental circumstances such as poverty, lack of social support networks, lack of awareness of service providers of their needs as immigrants, and discrimination and prejudice. In my perception, the socio-economic conditions plus the family and personal issues with which participants were living generated by the stresses and challenges of the migration process more likely created the conditions for their involvement with the Canadian Justice System. Participants voiced their perception of the Canadian Justice System and the impact that their involvement with the system had on their young lives. The perception of being harassed or discriminated against as well as the lack of information on how the legal system works and the need for information in their own language was also mentioned. A review of the needs for support brought forward the need for support at different levels, not only for immigrant families in general, but specifically for youth already in contact with the Canadian Justice System. From my perspective, the study provides background on an issue that was a concern for some members of the Latin American community in Kitchener-Waterloo, but that may also affect other immigrant youth in the same situation. It confirms what has been reported in other studies regarding the migration process. In my view, the study also offers evidence that socio-economic determinants have a strong effect on how a disadvantaged population, immigrants in this case, access services and make choices. It also shows that in the case of the immigrant youth of the study institutional responses to their needs were not present or were insufficient. Based on the participants’ perceptions, a set of recommendations is also presented.

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Psychology Commons