The Science is Clear: Separating Families has Damaging Psychological and Health Consequences

Health – UConn Today

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) responded to the separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border with the following letter to Congress, co-authored by UConn’s Linda Halgunseth. Halgunseth is an associate professor of human development and family studies, and chair of the SRCD Latino Caucus.
An editor’s note was appended after the breaking news that the practice of separating families will be halted. “We at SRCD are relieved at this overdue change in policy. Yet, clear evidence indicates that trauma of separation during the highly stressful circumstances the affected children have experienced can have lasting effects.”
After the United States Department of Justice announced the “Zero Tolerance Policy for Criminal Illegal Entry,” Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE – an arm of the Department of Homeland Security) separated approximately 2,000 children from their parents in April and May 2018 as they approached the U.S. border. Children and parents were placed in separate facilities as they were being processed, and were not told when or how they would be reunited. This policy and its consequences have raised significant concerns among researchers, child welfare advocates, policy makers, and the public, given the overwhelming scientific evidence that separation between children and parents, except in cases where there is evidence of maltreatment, is harmful to the development of children, families, and communities. Family separations occurring in the presence of other stressors, such as detention or natural disaster, only adds to their negative effects.
Evidence on Harmful Effects of Parent-Child Separation
The evidence that family separation is harmful dates back to studies on the effects of parent-child separations on children’s well-being during World War II. This research documented far-reaching effects of these separations into adulthood, including increased risk for mental health problems, poor social functioning, insecure attachment, disrupted stress reactivity, and mortality. Other research similarly documents the harmful effects …

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