June 22, 2018

Lucia Ajas talks about her and her children being separated from their father. Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

In May and June, the United States separated more than 2,000 children from their families at the southern border. Caving to pressure, President Trump signed an executive order stopping the policy. But, experts say the damage has already been done. Nadine Burke Harris is the CEO of San Francisco’s Center for Youth Wellness and the author of the new book “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.” She says these experiences can lead to serious mental and physical health problems through the rest of these children’s lives.

Three Takeaways: 

  • Separating kids from caregivers is a recipe for the worst case outcomes, Harris says. When children experience trauma, their bodies release high levels of stress hormones. And the best way to handle these high levels is care from an adult.
  • Food and shelter are not enough, according to Harris. Nurturing touch, which was forbidden in detention facilities, is crucial for development. Harris points out that premature babies in neonatal wards that were touched and caressed grew 50 percent faster than those who didn’t receive the same physical attention.
  • But it’s not just the stress of being separated from families. Harris says the trauma is cumulative: “Clearly the children who are arriving at the border with their families have already, likely, experienced significant adversity. Many of the families are leaving situations that have been dangerous and scary and the journey itself is incredibly harrowing.”   

More Reading:

childhood, immigration, Culture, Nadine Burke Harris, childhood trauma, ACE

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