Separating Kids from Parent/s — “The Effect is Catastrophic” and “A Form of Child Abuse”

Important article about research into how children react to being removed from their families both at borders but also under child protection. Although this article bases its research in America and Australia, the research applies to children in the UK just as much.

Dee McLachlan, Gumshoe News 15 Jan 2020

What happens to children when they are forcibly separated from their parents? Their bodies go into stress. Their heart rate increases and the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Over time these stress hormones can start killing off dendrites — the little branches in brain cells that transmit mes­sages — causing long-term damage, both psychologically and to the physical structure of the brain.

Separating Immigrant Kids from Parents

As reported in the Washington Post, “The effect is catastrophic,” says pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, Charles Nelson. “There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.

But the research on child-parent separation by pediatricians, psychologists and other health experts is not being brought into focus to help US kids — it was to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy. That policy has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents.

The public outrage is against the US government, and not against ‘traffickers’, including so-called child protection departments. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., in a statement entitled “Save the Children, Stop the Disgrace at the Border,” wrote (referring to the border kids):

“What’s happening on the border is an international disgrace and moral outrage. We say… no to breaking up families, no to separating children from their parents…”

12,600 medical professionals signed a petition to end the ‘separation’ policy. It is obvious that separation disrupts the child and is devastating. It breaks fundamental and critical bonds, disturbs a child’s sense of safety and meaning in the world.

So why are these medical professionals not outraged by the child protection department policies?

In a comment in the Washington Post article, Mary Brown refers to the 430,000 kids in foster care across the US as follows:

“American kids are put into foster care every day for reasons of poverty. No one cares or sheds any tears for them. Foster care and adoption have become big business… BILLIONS… So if we are focusing on the trauma of separating children from parents, it’s time we recognized the damage being done by our over use of foster care.”

Note: the number of children in foster care in the US on 30 September 2018 is 437,283.

Child Protection vs Border Protection

What is the difference between taking a child from a mother trying to enter the States, and taking a child from a US or Australian citizen? Nothing really. Kids are being torn unwillingly from protective parents every day in the Western World. (Again, let me emphasize that I am referring to child protection cases where kids are desperate to stay home but have been — I saw unlawfully — removed from a protective parent/s.)

So where is the outrage about these children?

Australian Government Figures Don’t Add Up

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2017–18 there were 32,000 in this country children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases. Emotional abuse was the most common substantiated abuse type. Nearly 60% (59%) of all abuse in Australia is now attributed to “emotional.” Have we gone mental? How does one substantiate emotional abuse in the first instance? Statistics: Neglect is 17%, physical abuse 15%, and sexual abuse averaging around 9%.

Also, ISPCAN states that 1 in 4 girls or 1 in 5 boys is sexually abused. And we know that there are many cases across Australia where departments have refused to believe the kids — so they remove the kids from the protective parent, AGAINST the wishes of the child.

Yet, scientists and medical professionals agree that separation trauma may have life-long effects.

In an article entitled, “The mental health impact of separating immigrant children from their parents,” Johns Hopkins expert Paul Spiegel says that for children, being separated from their parents is a trauma that can have ‘very negative effects’. Spiegel commenting on the estimated 2,300 separated children at the US border, Spiegel answered questions in Newsweek, 20 June 2018: 

What do we know about how this kind of separation impacts mental health?

“There are a tremendous amount of data on this, stemming primarily from the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, study, conducted by the CDC from 1995 to 1998. This study found that traumatic events such as divorce, separation from parents, being put into foster homes or sexual or physical abuse have very negative effects on children. These effects are cumulative…

“When children are forcibly separated from their parents without being given any information and without being able to communicate with their parents, that’s a traumatic event… Prolonged trauma in children can affect the architecture of their brain because it’s not yet fully formed. The toxic stress puts the brain into continuous flight-or-fight mode.”

“On brain architecture… The pathways and mechanisms are complex, involving changes to the responsiveness of neurotransmitters coming out from the brain… Studies have shown that exposure to chronic stress in children can affect the brain.”

What are the visible consequences of these changes?

“For many children, the trauma will exacerbate learning difficulties. Some children may be more prone to substance abuse. Increased depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are also issues. If a child has a genetic predisposition to a mental health condition, an event like this could help bring that out. The ACE study followed children for many years and found an increase in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even earlier death among children who experienced repeated trauma versus those who did not.

“The number of traumas, the intensity and the length are all important. So reuniting children with their parents quickly could help reduce the consequences later? …The sooner you can stop the separation the better, but the harm has already been done.”

On a solution, Paul Spiegel says,

“By far the best answer is to not do it in the first place.”

Yes Australia — and the Western world — wake up. The removal of children is a terrible thing to do in most circumstances. I can cite many cases where the departments and courts are acting in the worst interests of the child/ren.

The Washington Post article reports that,

“Research on Aboriginal children in Australia who were removed from their families also showed long-lasting effects. They were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or criminally charged as adults, 60 percent more likely to have alcohol-abuse problems and more than twice as likely to struggle with gambling.”

Removal is a Form of Child Abuse

It is truly traumatic for a protective parent when their child or children are removed. I know. I speak to them every day.

But what happens to the child when they are removed — against their will — from a loving protective parent. It has been fairly well documented. Prolonged separation increases in the levels of stress hormones — and this could “disrupt physiological functions and induce inflammation and epigenetic changes – chemical alterations that disrupt the activity of our genes.”

The loss or separation from a parent/s increases the likelihood of various psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety, mood, psychotic or substance use disorders. Research shows that it often leads to increased use of drugs or alcohol later in life.

I have personally heard accounts of separated children self-harming (cutting themselves). Various medical problems arise too — such as irritable bowel. I’ve heard kids become fearful, withdrawn, sedentary, and begin to drop from social groups. Children forcibly separated could face lifelong health consequences (healthline). Mental health experts and pediatricians say they also worry about the long-lasting effects of separation.

And as Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in an interview on CBS This Morning said,

“It is a form of child abuse.”