Elizabeth S. Barnert, MD, MPH
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Elizabeth S. Barnert, MD, MPH



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 to guide smart decarceration.

Dr. Barnert serves on the Board of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) and on the NCCHC’s Juvenile Health Committee and Structural Racism Committee. She also serves on the advisory board of Human Rights for Kids, 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 of the Life Course Intervention Research Network (LCIRN). Dr. Barnert is a founding board member of DNA Bridge, 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.




Medical Board Certification

Pediatrics, American Board of Pediatrics, 2012


Research, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars, UCLA School of Medicine, 2014


Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 2012


Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 2010


MD, UCSF School of Medicine, 2009
MS, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, 2007


  • UCLA Public Impact Research Award – 2021
  • “100 in 100” - Honored as UCLA Health 100 Trailblazing Women, 2020 
  • New Member Outstanding Science Award, Society for Pediatric Research, 2019
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Hospital Affiliations

Medical Services

Areas of Focus



  • Youth legal system; Justice-involved youth; Commercial sexually exploitation of children and youth; Child sex trafficking; Family reunification; Children’s rights; Human rights


Link to Dr. Barnert's PubMed publications

Selected Publications:

  1. Barnert ES. (2023). Reunion: Finding the Disappeared Children of El Salvador. University of California Press.
  2. Barnert et al. Reimagining Children’s Rights in the US. JAMA Pediatrics. 2022 December; 176(12):1242-1247. PMID: 36279125
  3. Barnert et al. Using DNA to Reunify Migrant Families [Policy Forum Perspective]. Science; 2021 June; 372(6547):1154-1156. PMID: 34045324.
  4. Barnert ES. COVID-19 and Youth Impacted by Juvenile and Adult Criminal Justice SystemsPediatrics. 2020 Aug;146(2). PMID: 32709736.
  5. Barnert ES, Lopez N, PJ Chung. Barriers to Health Care for Latino Youths During Community Reentry After Incarceration: Los Angeles County, California 2016-2018. American Journal of Public Health. 2020 January; 110(S1): S63-S70. PMID: 31967868.
  6. Barnert ES, Kelly MA, Ports K, Godoy S, Abrams L, Bath E. Understanding Commercially Sexually Exploited Adolescent Females' Access, Utilization, and Engagement in Healthcare: "Work Around What I Need." Women's Health Issues. 2019; 29(4):315-324.
  7. Barnert ES, Lopez N, Bourgois P, Ryan G, Chung PJ, Stover E. My Child’s Journey Home: Perspectives of Adult Family Members on the Separation and Reunification of the “Disappeared” Children of El Salvador. Human Rights Quarterly. 2019 February; 41(1): 91-114. PMID: 31327885.

In the News

  • Co-authored Washington Post op-ed calling for juvenile justice minimum age legislation to end the arrest and prosecution of young children in the U.S. (February 2021 - may need subscription to read).
  • Featured in New York Times story about a Kansas teenager who was charged with a felony for making a gun shape with her fingers (October 2019).
  • Authored article in Forbes about the significant health consequences of family separation (October 2018).
  • Interviewed by host Jonathan Van Ness on Getting Curious podcast, about the long-term impact of family separation on children (July 2018).


  • Aetna
  • Anthem Blue Cross
  • Blue Shield of California
  • Centivo
  • Cigna
  • First Health
  • Health Net of California
  • Interplan (part of HealthSmart)
  • L.A. Care
  • MultiPlan
  • UFCM Health System
  • Prime Health Services
  • Private Healthcare Systems (PHCS)
  • UnitedHealthcare

The list of health care plans above may not be comprehensive and could change. 
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  • UCLA Public Impact Research Award – 2021
  • “100 in 100” - Honored as UCLA Health 100 Trailblazing Women, 2020 
  • New Member Outstanding Science Award, Society for Pediatric Research, 2019
  • Emerald Literati Award – excellence award for research article from Emerald Publishing, 2019
  • Academic Pediatric Association Region IX and X Paul C. Young MD Trainee Research Award, 2014
  • Academic Pediatric Association Young Investigator Award, 2013