Separating Children from Families at the Border Has Short-and Long-Term Mental Health Consequences

Updated: May 26, 2021

By Dana Asby, CEI Intern and Christine Mason, Executive Director

At CEI, we, like many around the world, are struggling to understand how such a barbaric practice as separating parents from children could be enforced as official policy in this day and age. Can you imagine the anxiety that both parents and children must be facing? However, the practice of separating children from their parents did not start in 2016. We have substantial evidence of the long-term damage that such actions produce. Consider the federal program the American government created under the Indian Office in 1879 that led to a series of boarding schools where young Native boys, taken from their villages after misleading parents, were given makeovers to appear more American and taught how to fit in with the rest of society (Reyhner, 2013). Today, Native American populations tend to be poorer, less educated, less employed, and in poorer physical health. They also experience more mental health issues than other racial groups in the U.S. (Gone & Trimble, 2011). While the complex history of Native Americans includes more than separating children from their parents, we know that this alone can lead to devastating mental health consequences. 


What Needs to be Done.  We are pleased to see that many educators and other organizations are speaking out and that President Trump has issued an executive order that parents and children be housed together while awaiting decisions regarding deportation. So we can feel some sense of hope that this deplorable practice has ended. Now, children and parents need to be reunited. One pro bono attorney for immigrant families is suggesting that it could take up to a month for this reunification to occur.


References

Cumming-Bruce, N. (2018, June 5). Taking migrant children from parents is illegal, U.N. tells U.S. The New York Times. 

Gone, J. & Trimble, J.E. (2011). American Indian and Alaska Native mental health: Diverse perspectives on enduring disparities. The Annual Review of Clinical Psychology.

Lavandera, E. (2018, June 14). She says federal officials took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center. CNN website.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2005/2014). Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain:Working paper 3. Updated Edition. Harvard University website.

Reyhner, J. (2013). A history of American Indian Education. Edweek website.

Rosenberg, M. (2018, June 8). Exclusive: Nearly 1,800 families separated at U.S.-Mexico border in 17 months through February. Reuters website.