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The Enduring Effects of Family Separations at the Border

We at Power of Two began holding our breath when we first became aware of the Trump administration’s policy separating adults illegally crossing American borders from the children accompanying them.

As a provider of services that combat the impact of trauma on children, we know that disrupting the attachment between children and parents has significant consequences for children’s development and social-emotional regulation. Rigorous research has also confirmed the long-term negative consequences that such trauma has on physical health, the ability to navigate stressors in life, and the ability to develop and sustain positive, nurturing relationships. Like many other child welfare organizations, we strongly oppose our country’s policy of traumatizing children by taking away their primary source of comfort and security during an already stressful immigration experience.

Over a year later, Power of Two is working with children who have been reunited with their parents following forcible separation at the border. Unfortunately, though, we have not been able to exhale. We are seeing firsthand the challenges that separation brings to successful reunification. When placed back in the care of their parents, many children are fearful and avoidant. Even after trust has been re-established, these families are still in need of social supports but fear accessing them.

We are also working with teenage mothers who were separated from their own parents at the border and have since become parents themselves. Having endured the trauma of separation from a parent, and now living with its effects, these young mothers need our support in learning how to be warm, nurturing, and attuned to their own child’s needs.

Although the family separation policy officially ended in June through executive order, an exception to the order allows separations to continue. Moreover, many families separated prior to June have yet to be reunited. Family traumas continue at the border, yet news cycles have moved on, and our collective consciousness has shifted toward impeachment proceedings. A generation of children will be negatively impacted, yet their stories run the risk of being forgotten.

Our country has many more years of reparative work to conduct with the families who have been impacted by the family separation policy. Power of Two urges policymakers to consider and plan for the long-term investments we will need to make in these children. We will continue to share their stories as we work to help them recover from the trauma that our nation has inflicted upon them.

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