The Trauma of Separating Children from their Parents

The damage the US government is doing to 12,000 kids

Lost childhood
By Annabelle Timsit

Geopolitics reporter


When the family separation crisis began at the US-Mexico border in April 2018, experts warned that keeping children apart from their parents would have consequences on their physical and mental health for years to come. Since then, allegations of child abuse in migrant shelters and the death of two children in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody suggests those concerns were justified.

It seems the US government is failing to protect some of the migrant children in its care. And science tells us the worst damage they will suffer is invisible to the naked eye.

The trauma of separating children from their parents

According to John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s 1958 attachment theory, a healthy and loving relationship with at least one caregiver helps children develop social, cognitive, and emotional regulation skills. That’s why separating a child from the adults they trust and love compromises their long-term development. That’s especially true during their first few years of life, when the brain forms more than 1 million new neural connections every second. During this period, a child’s environment and experiences have the most impact on their health, education, and professional outcomes later in life.

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