Separating children from their parents or caregivers hurts children. Between April 19 and May 31, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents. As Celeste Fremon reported in WitnessLa, that number has now passed 2,300 children (and is increasing by more than 60/day), with another 11,000 locked up in everything from large cages to a converted Walmart.
“To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” says a petition signed by more than 9,000 mental health professionals and 172 organizations.
Many people who see reports of children separated from their parents might think that, because they’re not crying, that they’ve adjusted. Or, if they are crying, they’ll eventually stop and get over it.
But here’s the reality: In terms of the effects on children’s brains, those who participate in separating children from their parents and locking them up in detainment centers might as well be beating them with truncheons.
That might seem harsh, especially for those well-intentioned people working for the Department of Health and Human Services who are trying to do their best to care for immigrant kids taken from their parents. But the reality is that kids’ brains can’t distinguish between toxic stress caused by being separated from a parent, or toxic stress caused by living in an unsafe neighborhood, or toxic stress caused by living in a war zone, or toxic stress caused by witnessing violence outside the home, or toxic stress caused by suffering a beating, or toxic stress caused by living with an alcoholic parent, or toxic stress caused by being bullied.
It’s all toxic stress, and it all damages a child’s developing brain.