The Long Shadow of Parent Child Separation

Toxic environments early on have lasting consequences for children’s health.

Taking a position on the national crisis of separating children from their parents at the border should be easy. Yet in our increasingly polarized society, many are getting caught up in another both-sides kind of argument. As a nurse, family and school counselor–never mind as a mother—I can tell you one thing is crystal clear: Early interpersonal relationships between parents and children are the single most protective factor in shaping highly functioning children, teenagers, and later adults.

With all the news stories out there, here’s my attempt to pull together some key facts with sourcing so that you can use your head, heart, and hands to support families. We have to have hope.

What you need to know

— The vast majority of people coming to the border are fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression in their home communities.

— Parents with children trying to seek asylum through a legal port of entry are being denied, so many are forced to cross illegally.

— Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor for which this administration is choosing to separate parents from their children as young as infants. The Trump administration implemented this policy by choice and could end it by choice. No law or court ruling mandates family separations.

— Children are processed through the Department of Homeland Security and then transferred to care under the department of Health and Human Services. Agents say there is no interagency process for keeping track of which children belong to specific parents. There is no current process for reuniting parents and children.

— Separating families as they seek asylum together is a flagrant violation of the human rights of the parents and their children and is also a violation of U.S. obligations under refugee law.

— Parents are being deported while their children are still being detained, creating a system of institutionalization of young children.

— Amnesty International is calling the execution of this policy nothing short of torture.

— The laity and clergy of the United Methodist Church issued a complaint against Jeff Sessions for this policy, charging him with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

Why you should care

— An extensive body of research shows the long shadow of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including lifelong physical and mental health issues.
— Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between ACEs and a variety of substance-use disorders and other maladaptive behaviors such as increased risk of suicide attempts, lifetime depressive episodes, sleep disturbances, sexual risk behavior, and teen pregnancy.

—Because they are human beings. They are families. They are all of our children …

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