Family separations at the border alarm child-welfare experts

(AP) — The sights and sounds are wrenching: A boy’s cries of “Papa! Papa!” for the father he had been separated from. Youngsters placed in chain-link cages in an old Texas warehouse. Parents begging to know what will happen to their children.

Child welfare has always been a challenging profession; state and local agencies across America make difficult decisions every day to separate children from their parents. But those agencies have ways of minimizing the trauma that aren’t being employed by the Trump administration in separating immigrant families at the Mexican border.

“There are no principles of good child welfare that are being used in this process,” said Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers.

Among other things, child welfare agencies often try to arrange visits between parents and children and keep communication open.

McClain and many of his professional colleagues nationwide are alarmed by what is happening at the border, citing research demonstrating that family separation can cause long-term trauma for children, including depression, anxiety, feelings of insecurity and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their worries center on the more 2,300 children who have been separated from their parents this spring as part of a Trump administration effort to deter illegal border crossings. Federal officials have not specified how long the youngsters will be held.

McClain knows child welfare intimately. He spent five years in a foster-care group home in Texas as a teen, then went on to become a child abuse investigator in that state.

“After we removed children from their homes, I would visit them every day in their foster home,” he said. “I was the link back to their parents — I’d get messages back and forth. We had ways to mitigate the trauma.”

As soon as feasible, parent-child visits were arranged. And parents could offer advice to the children’s caregiver — their food preferences and bedtime rituals, for example.

The wave of family separations at the border, undertaken as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward those caught illegally trying to enter the country, is not facilitating any continued parent-child communication.

The best option is to keep a fragile family together in the first place, said Mike Arsham, a senior official at New York City’s child-welfare agency.

If that’s not possible — for example, when a single parent is jailed — the agency tries to find relatives who could care for the children until they are reunited with their parents.

“We give the child whatever reassurance we can that this separation will be as temporary as possible, without giving them false promises,” Arsham said. “They want to know if they can still have their circle of friends and their most treasured belongings.”

If there are no relatives available, the next option is to find a foster family willing to take the child, he said. Larger group facilities are generally considered the last resort.

The entire child-welfare system in the U.S. purports to be guided by the principle of “the best interests of the child.” Ashram, however, said it is clear to him that the family-separation policy at the border “is not primarily motivated by the well-being of the children.”

Oversight of the separated children is being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services, which has defended its operations.

Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, said younger children under HHS care are being placed in “permanent shelters” where they receive education, clothing, medical and mental health services, and recreational and entertainment opportunities.

“They’re under constant supervision and observation, so that we can address any health or medical concerns that arise while they’re in our care,” he said.

However, the separation policy was branded “wrong and immoral” in a joint statement Tuesday from 14 prominent charitable and social service organizations, including Catholic Charities USA, Girl Scouts of the USA, United Way Worldwide and the YWCA.

The groups called on HHS to restore connections between the children who are in custody and their family members who are awaiting processing by immigration authorities.

“The standards of care for these children must be equal to that expected in our current child welfare system,” the groups said.

Among the child welfare experts dismayed by the separations is Sandy Santana, executive director of Children’s Rights, a watchdog organization that has successfully sued numerous states to force improvements in their child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Under longstanding practice in the U.S., children should be removed from their home only if a parent is unfit or poses a danger to the child, Santana said. Neither of those circumstances seems prevalent in the wave of border separations, he said.

Under normal practice, Santana said, the goal of a child welfare agency should be to minimize harm to the child in cases where separation is deemed necessary.

“The trauma can have life-long consequences for these kids, so a good system tries to return the child to the parent as soon as possible when safety is not an issue,” he said.

Even a substandard agency would be expected to draw up a plan addressing foster children’s eventual reunification with their parents.

“The federal government has no plan for reuniting the children with their families,” Santana said. “It is deliberately inflicting trauma on children to punish their parents.”

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16 comments

  • Paul Brandt

    Mindless liberals would much rather have these kids put into adult detention centers where they could be involved in gang violence and risk being raped. Not too smart to pick that idea as your anti-trump propaganda of the week.

    • NEW Bob

      And it is very traumatic. Early childhood trauma is a huge factor in mental health later in life. This whole thing is creating future mental health issues that we are going to be dealing with for years to come.

  • J

    The same child welfare system that can get called to she same house a dozen times and literally do nothing lol what a joke

    • C

      The degradation of our country started with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Like so many liberal ideas, what was, at face value, desirable in its goals initially was incrementally and intentionally destroyed by the liberals to create a dependency in America on the government for existence. In essence the Democrats reinvented a form of slavery, but with the help of the media, its victims never knew it

  • sharon-k

    I would like to ask Angelo McClain how the kids are supposed to be kept near their “circle of friends or most treasured belongings” after their parent(s) or the human trafficker that dragged them to the border has taken them away from those things. The trauma to those kids occurred before they reached the U.S. border at the hands of either their own parents or the human traffickers posing as their parent(s).

    It’s our elected officials job to enforce the law and if they don’t like the laws in place then they should roll up their sleeves and work together and across party lines to change them. If they can manage to remember they were elected to serve American citizens, that is.

    • Vicki Fletcher

      Sharon, Thank you for being Brave enough to call it like it truly is. Now the USA will pay the TAB on taking care of these children. I feel bad that the PARENT’S CHOSE TO DO THIS TO THEIR CHILDREN. They knew it was Illegal to CROSS OVER. Now Bethany Christian Services claim it cost’s 750.00 per day per child. Yet a Foster Parent will be paid 15$ per day. So this is just another MONEY HUNGRY GROUP trying to make a dollar of a INNOCENT CHILD.

  • Hypocrite Democrat

    “Under longstanding practice in the U.S., children should be removed from their home only if a parent is unfit or poses a danger to the child, Santana said…”
    Seems to me if you’re committing a crime with your child, you are an unfit parent.

  • Jessie

    This is one of the most pathetic attempts at distraction that the left has attempted to date, Oh, wait except for the entire Russian lie.
    There was zero outrage before the IG report came out, and the tainted DOJ/FBI scandal.

    And get this… CHILDREN ARE ONLY BEING SEPARATED FROM THIER “ARRESTED, CRIMINAL PARENTS”
    Do not attempt to illegally enter the US with your children, and you will not be arrested, nor your children separated from you.

    How about if you passionate liberals focused on fixing our problems, and let the government take care of the criminals.

  • Jessie

    I see that you cannot post anything that states the truth here anymore, you must follow the agenda to be allowed to speak out!

    Maybe The President is right about the news.
    I wonder if this is the way the media in Iran, and China and such started out. You know, so much deception, until the government must step in and take over.
    I see that coming…

  • Jessie

    Put my comment back up! It was truthful, and contained no violative content, you removed it because you are promoting an agenda, and cannot be bothered by the truth.