The fleeting childhood of U.S. border children

By Darlene Byrne, Judge, 126th Judicial District Court
The comments in this paper are solely the opinions of the writer and no other organization.  

As a judge in Texas who has presided over many hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases since 2003, I have seen firsthand what the trauma of removing a child from a parent can do to the child. The parent-child relationship is one of our most sacred and precious fundamental and constitutional rights, as recognized by many U.S. and Texas Supreme Court cases.

Sentencing innocent children at our U.S. borders, with instant removal from their parents with no notice, no warning, and no due process goes against the moral code of this nation. The events taking place at our southern border are no less traumatic for the affected children than cases in which a child is removed from their parents because of allegations of abuse and neglect.

However, unlike the process when the parent is charged with abuse or neglect, the forcible separation of families at the border occurs without due process or judicial oversight. For child abuse and neglect cases there are well developed federal and state laws, honed and refined over decades, to insure both the child and parents are provided with due process prior to any separation of children from their parents. There is immediate and ongoing judicial oversight of the investigation by child welfare professionals regarding removal of children.

The judge’s role is to asses whether the government has met the high burden required to justify removal of a child from the custody of the parent, governed by the mantra to Do No Harm to the child. Our laws seek to insure that children are not summarily stripped from their parent’s arms, and segregated in a holding cell or abandoned Walmart along with hundreds of other traumatized and removed children. But, if possible, placed with grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, or prior babysitters – people the child already knows and loves—or at least placed with a licensed foster parent with training in childcare and trauma. Even then, judicial oversight continues to encourage frequent visits and contacts with all but the most unfit parents within a very short time after removal.

As the chair of the Texas Statewide Collaboration on Trauma Informed Care, watching what is happening at my state’s border to these children is the antithesis of a trauma informed system of care and country. These policies ignore the mandate to do no harm to these children.

Although I am only one judge, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, of which I am a member and past president, has recently spoken against the separation of children and their families in the following resolution http://www.ncjfcj.org/Separation-Policy-Statement. Childhood is fleeting. Time is of the essence. These children should not and cannot wait for the contentious and laborious wholesale overhaul of our country’s immigration policy, which our Congress has been working on for years. By then, their childhood will be over and the lifetime damage will be done. If anyone deserves action and due process, it is the innocent children arriving at our borders today.

Those who separate immigrant children from parents might as well be beating them with truncheons

Aimmigrants
Central American asylum seekers, including a Honduran girl, 2, and her mother, are taken into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border in June in McAllen, Texas.

They all agree. Physicians for Human Rights. American Medical Association. American Academy of Pediatrics. American Psychiatric Association. National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. 

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.

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Early childhood educators learn new ways to spot trauma triggers, build resiliency in preschoolers

Julie Kurtz, co-director, trauma-informed practices in early childhood education, WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies/photo by Laurie Udesky

A hug may be comforting to many children, but for a child who has experienced trauma, it may not feel safe.

That’s an example used by Julie Kurtz, co-director of trauma-informed practices in early childhood education at the WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies (CCFS), as she begins a trauma training session. Her audience, preschool teachers and staff of the San Francisco, CA-based Wu Yee Children’s Services at San Francisco’s Women’s Building, listen attentively.

Kurtz leads them into a description of how a child’s young brain functions, how young children – regardless of whether they have experienced trauma or not — live in their reptile brain.

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‘Christmas Crime’ injects humor into a difficult subject

Sarah Ann Masse forwarded this just before Christmas, but I didn’t see it until after. Nevertheless, even though it has a holiday theme, it’s still worth watching, because We Are Thomasse have added a very clever twist — and wonderful clarity — to the sexual harassment and abuse issues that have surfaced over the last few months.

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The primal wound: Do you have one?

Is suffering a necessary part of the human condition? Is it species normal for individuals to feel anxious—like impending doom, a fear of intimacy, or a sense of falseness and meaninglessness?

John Firman and Ann Gila, following the psychosynthesis tradition of Roberto Assagioli (1973), say no, this is not part of being human. The “anxious estrangement” that most people today feel is not normal but unnatural (The Primal Wound, 1997, p. 2). It is the result of a violation in early life that results in broken relationship to parents, others and the world. More deeply it is the missing connection to Ultimate Reality or the Ground of Being. The primal wound is:

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Patient’s murder leads to soul searching, shift to ACEs science in UCSF medical clinic

Patient’s murder leads to soul searching, shift to ACEs science in UCSF medical clinic

It was the murder of a beloved patient that led to a seismic shift in the Women’s HIV Program at the University of California, San Francisco: a move toward a model of trauma-informed care. “She was such a soft and gentle person,” said Dr. Edward Machtinger, the medical director of the program, who recalled how utterly devastated he and the entire staff were by her untimely death.

“This murder woke us up,” he said. ”It just made us take a deeper look at what was actually happening in the lives of our patients.” The Women’s HIVprogram, explained Machtinger, was well regarded as a model of care for treating HIV patients – reducing the viral load of HIV in the majority of its patients to undetectable levels.

But the staff was clearly missing something. A closer look at the lives of their patients revealed that 40 percent were using hard drugs – including heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine, according to Machtinger. Half of them suffered clinical depression, the majority had isolated themselves due to deep shame associated with having HIV, and many experienced violence.

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Explaining the symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD

Author’s Note: It took me over a month to write this because simply describing what it is like to struggle with the symptoms of C-PTSD resulted in triggering fear, anxiety, and flashbacks.  I persisted with this narrative because I want people who have never experienced the complexities of this illness to have a better understanding of what someone with PTSD or C-PTSD might be trying to manage.  If you personally struggle with anxiety, have PTSD or C-PTSD, or you are triggered by descriptions of fear or trauma, you should not read this.  It is hard to read. It was hard to write.

In the car today, a good friend (I rarely leave the house without someone with me) asked me if I had looked at the condominiums in town for potential rentals when I was in the middle of my housing search last year.  I had, and he asked what I had thought of them and why I had not opted to live there. I told him that the basement in one I looked at

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