Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, MD, MPH, MS is a board-certified pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at UCLA. She provides pediatric care to youth detained in the juvenile legal system. Her research, grounded in human rights and social action, examines children affected by violence, family separation, and incarceration. She is author of Reunion: Finding the Disappeared Children of El Salvador.

Through the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, Dr. Barnert received her medical degree from UCSF and earned a Master's of Science degree from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Her public health Master's thesis, now available as the ethnographic book Reunion, examines separation and reunification experiences of families torn apart in the 1980s Salvadoran Civil War who, decades later, were reunited through a DNA bank she helped develop in partnership with the Salvadoran human rights organization Pro-Búsqueda. Reunion illuminates the cycles of poverty and violence driving immigration and ongoing separations around the world. Her work is relevant to migrant children separated at U.S. borders, Ukrainian children taken from their parents by Russia, and countless others undergoing forced family separation.

Following medical school, Dr. Barnert completed residency training in pediatrics at Stanford, where she developed expertise on advocacy and youth incarceration. She came to UCLA in 2012 as a Clinical Scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Clinical Scholars Program. During fellowship, she also completed training in health policy and earned a Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree from UCLA. Dr. Barnert joined UCLA faculty upon completion of her fellowship training.

A Cuban-American born and raised in Los Angeles, Dr. Barnert is passionate about improving health outcomes of marginalized youth, both through her clinical care and by using research as a tool for social justice. In her current 5-year NIH study, Dr. Barnert is partnering with Los Angeles County to develop and test an intervention to link young people to mental health and substance use treatment services after incarceration. She has numerous publications in top-tier journals, including in ScienceJAMA Pediatrics, Pediatrics, and American Journal of Public Health. She has presented her work at the National Academies of Sciences, national and international research meetings, and through the mainstream news media, including via the Associated Press, National Public Radio, and PBS NewsHour.

Dr. Barnert has advised the U.S. Congress and California legislature, governor, and Health & Human Services Agency (CalHHS) on youth justice policy. Her research contributed to the passage of California SB 1322, which decriminalized child victims of commercial sexual exploitation; to AB 2992, which requires police officer training on commercial sexual exploitation of children; and to SB 439, which excludes children 11 and under from the juvenile justice system in California. Her research and advocacy led to a national coalition around juvenile legal system minimum age (#MinimumAge, #RaiseTheFloor, #UncuffKids) and informed Karen Bass's HR 2908, which proposed to establish a minimum age of 12 for the federal criminal legal system. Dr. Barnert’s work on youth reentry and Medicaid coverage contributed to the federal law HR 6 (SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act) and to California’s related law, AB 80, which improved linkages to Medicaid coverage for youth exiting incarceration. She is currently working with CalHHS’s Office of Youth & Community Restoration(Link is external) to guide smart decarceration.

Dr. Barnert serves on the Board of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC)(Link is external) and on the NCCHC’s Juvenile Health Committee and Structural Racism Committee. She also serves on the advisory board of Human Rights for Kids(Link is external), a non-profit dedicated to promoting children’s rights in the United States. She co-leads the Reimagining Children’s Rights Initiative, a national network to advance child rights in the U.S., and the Youth Justice Node(Link is external) of the Life Course Intervention Research Network (LCIRN). Dr. Barnert is a founding board member of DNA Bridge(Link is external), a non-profit that seeks to promote a humanitarian approach to use of DNA for family reunification of children separated by war, disasters, or inhumane immigration policies. 

Dr. Barnert's work is guided by the principle that all children should receive the support they need to be healthy and thrive.

Liz also serves as co-leader to the Life Course Translational Research Network (LCT-RN)'s Adversity Node.

Learn more about the Node