Families seeking asylum from danger or safe shelter from grinding poverty and unemployment—the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—have long been welcomed to the United States. Yet, this spring, close to 2000 children were separated from their parents in a six-week period at our southern border by order of the Department of Homeland Security. This inhumane policy will do lasting damage to these children.
“Highly stressful experiences, including family separation, can cause irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture. Toxic stress is caused by prolonged exposure to heightened stress, and has detrimental short- and long-term health effects. When children are separated from their parents, it removes the buffer of a supportive adult or caregiver to help mitigate stress and protect against substantial impacts on their health that can contribute to chronic conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and heart disease.” American Academy of Pediatrics, Detention of Immigrant Children policy statement, 2017.
Parents as Teachers partners with families of young children in all 50 states, including many immigrant and refugee families struggling to stay safe and secure and to raise their children in a healthy environment. For 35 years, we have focused on supporting families in reducing the types of stresses that can lead to child maltreatment so children feel safe, secure, and can be successful. Intentionally inflicting toxic stress on children as state-sanctioned policy is immoral, unconscionable and goes against every family value we hold dear as an organization and as a nation.
No matter the circumstances, unless there are concerns for the child’s safety at the hand of the parent, families should never be pulled apart. Children need the love, support, and shelter of their families in order to learn, grow and develop to realize their full potential. We strongly oppose this policy.
Constance Gully, President and CEO, Parents as Teachers National Center.