No one can hear about the treatment of child refugees at our borders unmoved. I knew I had to do something to try and change this and so, with the support of my seven co-authors, I delivered the following letter to 18 senators in Washington on October 9, 2018. In addition to our signatures, we received supporting signatures from 52 national and international experts in the field of attachment and trauma.
Dear Senators Michael Bennet, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Kristen Gillibrand, Charles Grassley, Kamala Harris, Tim Kaine, Amy Klobuchar, Jon Kyl, Pat`rick Leahy, Edward Markey, Bernie Sanders, Charles Schumer, Tina Smith, , Mark Warner and Elizabeth Warren,
We are professionals with a range of experience in medicine, psychotherapy, neurobiology, occupational and physical therapy, education, social work, criminal justice and more. Together we represent clients and colleagues throughout the United States and around the world who work daily to heal the impact of trauma and disrupted attachment on children and families. While we practice many different approaches to treatment, we all agree that a safe and secure attachment to a loving caregiver is the primary ingredient in the development of a healthy child and the most important factor in a child’s recovery after a traumatic event.
In a healthy caregiver-child relationship, thousands of positive, caring messages are sent and received daily. These form the basis on which the brain builds the bonds of attachment and enables the child to know himself and his world. When a child does not receive this fundamental care from a parent or caregiver, or that care is disrupted, this essential learning does not take place. Instead of learning to love and to trust, a child may become fearful and insecure. A fearful and insecure child’s brain cannot develop as it should. Children experiencing the loss of their home and homeland, culture, friends and extended family members have already been traumatized. To lose their parent or other family member providing that care is to multiply this traumatic experience tenfold and to take away their best hope for recovery.
Children who have experienced trauma and/or disrupted attachment in early childhood often experience long lasting emotional, social and cognitive challenges. As they enter school, both behavioral issues and a failure to live up to their potential often places them in the special education classroom. Older teens suffer from anxiety and depression. Many can and do recover with early, trauma-informed therapeutic intervention and the support of caring, committed parents and caregivers. Without these supports, they are in danger of becoming a danger to themselves and a burden to their families and to society.
More than 2,300 children were separated from adults at the U.S. border with Mexico between May 5 and June 9 this year. Over 500 of these children have not been reunited with their parents. Additionally, 32,372 unaccompanied minors were detained at the border between January 1 and June 20. The financial costs of providing housing and minimal care for these children, even on a temporary basis, are staggering. The costs will multiply exponentially as these children require foster homes and medical, legal and educational services as a direct result of their treatment at our border.
When parents are under stress, children suffer. When parents live in fear, it is extremely challenging for them to provide the secure environment that nourishes and sustains a healthy child. Nonetheless, the arms of a loving parent are the first choice for providing the security that their child needs. Our best first option for creating healthy, contributing future Americans is to provide a safe welcome both to the parents and the children at our borders.
For all of the above reasons, we the undersigned urge you to do the following:
- Reunite all families with children who have been separated at our borders and discontinue forever the practice of separating children from parents who seek asylum.
- Provide family friendly, culturally sensitive shelter to all families and unaccompanied children fleeing violence and persecution and seeking asylum within our borders.
- Provide trauma informed therapeutic counseling services to all families and children fleeing violence and persecution and seeking asylum within our borders.
We urge you to expedite your consideration of all bills currently under review by the Senate Judiciary Committee or before Congress including but not limited to: S.3227 The Reunite Act, S.3112 The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, S.3091 Protect Kids and Parents Act, S.3084 The Congressional Access to Children’s Detention Facilities Act, S.3036 The Keep Families Together Act and S.2937 The HELP Separated Children Act.
Additionally, we encourage you to actively pursue additional legislation to alleviate the ongoing suffering from trauma experienced by children separated from their families at our borders or subject to harsh and inhumane treatment due to U. S. immigration policies and practices.
Robert Spottswood MA, LCMHC, Norwick, VT
Deena McMahan, MSW, LICSW, St. Paul, MN
Charlotte Simpson, Special Education Parent-Advocate, Pembroke, MA
JoAnn Kennedy OTR/L, MS, OTD, Fairfax, VA
Terry M. Levy Ph.D. Evergreen, CO
Thomas Ahern, MA, Mesa, AZ
Art Becker-Weidman, Ph.D. Williamsville, NY
Craig W. Clark, LMFT, Soquel, CA