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Petition from Mental Health Professionals:

Stop Border Separation of Children from Parents!

We would like you to remember what it feels like to be a child. To take a moment and remember how big and sometimes scary the world felt and how, if you were lucky, the adults in your life represented security and safety. We want you to remember what little say you had over what you did and what happened to you and that even though this was frustrating, some part of you trusted that your parents knew what was best for you. And that your physical and psychological survival depended on them.

Between October 2017 and April 2018, 700 children have been separated from their parents at the border. One-hundred of these children are under 4 years old. These children are thrust into detention centers often without an advocate or an attorney and possibly even without the presence of any adult who can speak their language. We want you to imagine for a moment what this might be like for a child: to flee the place you have called home because it is not safe to stay and then embark on a dangerous journey to an unknown destination, only to be ripped apart from your sole sense of security with no understanding of what just happened or if you will ever see your family again. And that the only thing you have done to deserve this, is to do what children do: stay close to the adults in their lives for security.

It seems quite clear that the adults who are enacting a Zero Tolerance policy at our borders are not remembering what it is like to be a child. How many of us have memories of our parents suddenly disappearing in a grocery store and the temporary terror we felt? Not only is the terror these children experience at the border not temporary, these children have no way of knowing if and when they are ever going to see their parents again. As the Trump administration defends this separation policy, there is no mention of the impact this has on the children themselves. It appears that the only way to justify this policy is to completely disconnect from either one or both of the following realities: that these are children; and that children are affected by what happens to them.

From decades of research and direct clinical experience, we know that the impact of disrupted attachment manifests not only in overwhelming fear and panic at the time of the separation, but that there is a strong likelihood that these children’s behavioral, psychological, interpersonal, and cognitive trajectories will also be affected. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which is funded in part by the Department of Health and Human Services, notes that children may develop post traumatic responses following separation from their parents and specifically lists immigration and parental deportation as situations of potentially traumatic separation. 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.

We find ourselves again upon a time where we will one day utter “how could we have let that happen?” We cannot afford to forget that there is a history of separating children from their parents: during slave auctions; during the forced assimilation of American Indians; and during the Holocaust. The reverberations of these barbaric stains on our history are still felt today and future generations of these original victims will inherit the intergenerational transmission of these traumas. To try and argue that this policy of ripping children from their parents at the border is somehow different from the systematic traumatization of children during the times of slavery, forced assimilation, and the Holocaust is to disregard history. To somehow convince ourselves that this systematic traumatization of children has no bearing on the lives of these children and no impact on the legacy of our country is to be living in an alternate universe. And to not care about the impact these policies have on these children is to succumb to the worst potential of humanity.

We, the undersigned, implore you to recognize what is at stake when children are taken from their mothers and other attachment figures. As psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, and counselors we have a responsibility to report any concern of child maltreatment. This policy of separation is an indefensible violation of children’s civil rights and we uphold our responsibility as mandated reporters to sound the alarm.

Mental Health Professionals, Organizations, and Members of the General Public:Sign The Petition Now!

 

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Dr. Dana L. Sinopoli, Pys.D.
I am a licensed psychologist and have been in private practice since 2013. My training and clinical experience has ranged from university counseling to psychiatric inpatient and my work continues to be guided by the notion that we all have a story to tell and a right to be listened to in-depth. My work within community mental health centers, the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, and psychiatric hospital systems has fostered my dedication to also hearing those who are most often marginalized, including those who struggle severely and chronically. My involvement with psychoanalytic communities in Chicago, Connecticut, and Philadelphia continually informs my understanding that symptoms, in all their unwanted, disruptive, and painful forms, mean something important and are worth taking a closer look at. I am also in psychoanalytic training through the Institute for Relational Psychoanalysis of Philadelphia, furthering my commitment to recognizing how one's past and present relationships impact the way we experience and move through the world. I have a particular interest in the roles that gender expectations and assumptions play in psychological wellness. I have come to find that an exploration of gender and cultural identity can be quite fruitful, particularly with regard to trauma and boundary violations; conflicted feelings about relationships or parenthood; and anxiety about "making it" or "having it all." In addition to therapy, I have taught "Diagnosis and Treatment of Complex Trauma" at the graduate school level and have provided numerous trainings to detectives, attorneys, firefighters, and first responders about trauma informed forensic interviewing and secondary traumatization. I have also served as an expert witness, entrusted with educating the jury on delayed reporting and traumatic memory. I approach therapy from a relational perspective, which means that our work is about facilitating greater self-awareness through mutual curiosity and collaborative attunement. Figuring out what "the good life" looks like is a unique and individual process and therapy is an opportunity to sort through what is and is not working. I hold a great deal of respect for the decision that two minds can sometimes be better than one.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is shocking and inhumane beyond belief! As an Early Childhood Mental Health Clinician, I know that the trauma which is inflicted on these children and families will never be fully healed. This makes me ashamed to be an American.

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