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  • Shanna Donhauser

The Trauma of Separation

Few things in a child's life can feel more traumatizing than removal from primary attachment figures. When we take children from their parents, we are creating a trauma.

Young children experience safety and security in the presence of their known caregivers. We call this attachment. Attachment theory is an evolutionary theory that describes how and why humans create such significant emotional bonds throughout infancy and adulthood. Attachment explains why young children so strongly prefer their parents and known caregivers over kind strangers.

Even children whose parents abuse and neglect them will often prefer their parent. Why? Because this strong preference leads to the highest likelihood of survival. Our parents may not be perfect, but they are the most invested adult around.

We know that placing a child in foster care results in trauma, even when we remove them from danger and violence. Think about that for a moment. Placement into foster care results in trauma, even when the child would otherwise experience abuse. Social workers who work in foster care know this. And it's heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. We accept and knowingly inflict the trauma of losing an attachment figure to prevent the more significant trauma of physical, emotional, or mental abuse that might lead to serious injury or death.

Removing a child from their parents cannot be done without evidence, investigation, and imminent danger. The process is detailed, intentional, and documented carefully.

The removal of children from their parents at our southern border constitutes a significant trauma our government has directly inflicted on thousands of children. No matter your political views on immigration, we cannot deny that this policy profoundly traumatizes children.

We are a country that is supposed to value family and the lives of vulnerable children. This policy shows how far we are from living the truth of that value.

I am horrified by the tactics used by politicians and those in power to bully others into compliance. History will remember that this administration used children to create fear among those who flee violence and to intimidate and persuade others to join their cause.

President Trump finally signed an executive order to discontinue his administration's policy of separating children from parents illegally crossing the border. But the thousands of children separated from their families have already entered our foster care system, and they need help reunifying.

Want to help?

- There are a few organizations that are raising money to fund reunifications. You can find them linked here.

- Call your representatives and let them know how you feel about this issue. Or tweet them. Just make sure your voice is heard.

- Find a local protest. Many cities across the country are organizing protests to the separation of children and fighting for reunification on June 30. Find out more here.

- Volunteer your time if you have legal, mental health, or language skills

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