Border Children And The Crippling Effects of Detention and Separation

The Trump administration has put a halt to its controversial detention policy - which separated immigrant parents from their children at the US border. Yet the psychological impact of the policy on children is enduring and significant - as War Child expert Kenneth Miller explains…

The Trump administration has put a halt to its controversial detention policy in the face of international outcry. The policy saw illegal immigrants separated from their children at the US border. More than 2,300 children were removed from their parents as a result.

Chaotic efforts have commenced to reunite families - but experts claim significant damage to the wellbeing of children could already have occurred.

border childrenWar Child works in 14 countries to support the healthy psychosocial development of children living with the effects of armed conflict. We know that when children are forcibly separated from their parents - even for short periods of time - the result can be “profoundly harmful”, as our senior psychosocial support advisor Kenneth Miller explains.

“When you forcibly remove children from their parents, you rip away the secure base that allows them to feel safe in the world, despite the dangers that may surround them.”

In an article for Psychology Today, Miller outlines the damning effects that both the loss of the people closest to you - as well as your own detention - can have on a young body and mind. This sees the brain’s threat system enter a ‘state of prolonged alarm’ - a permanent state of activation that floods the body with stress hormones.

This temporary brain shift enables us to cope with significant levels of distress - but if it continues eventually our own survival is at risk.

Enduring ‘toxic stress’

For children this can have frightening consequences on their mental and physical wellbeing - a phenomenon researchers call ‘toxic stress’. Recurrent nightmares, loss of appetite and instances of self-harm or aggression are just some of the symptoms that these children are likely to experience.

Kenneth in his articles cites Dr Collen Craft, President of the American Academy of Pediatricians, who calls the practice “nothing less than government sanctioned child abuse.”

War Child undertakes a number of psychosocial support interventions to tackle these symptoms of distress. We work to empower children and youth to develop their resilience and innate strength through a series of life skills interventions.

Read the full report from Kenneth Miller on Psychology Online.

Words: Martha Shardalow
Images: John Moore

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