Emotional trauma

for children crossing the border

To the editor:

We have all seen and read about the practice of separating children from their parents at the southern border. Most people are disturbed by the concept of separating families. But we encourage everyone to truly consider what this separation can mean for these vulnerable children — their psychological well-being in particular.

The children crossing the border have already been subjected to severe stress — from crime and poverty in their home country to the challenges of extensive travel. They have often had too little food, water and sleep. Think about your own children. How would they react to these conditions? And then to be taken away from their parents and held in warehouse conditions? Add to this burden that they may not speak the language of those who are now responsible for them.

The immediate trauma to these children is obvious. What about the long-term consequences? Decades of psychological and brain research show that the impact of traumatic events, including separations from caregivers, can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Without proper treatment, a child who experiences a sudden separation from his parents is more likely to develop compromised attachments and debilitating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

With adequate mental health and emotional support, however, the harm to these children can be mitigated. Unfortunately, we have read next to nothing about the support the children receive in the detention centers where they are housed. Are trained mental health clinicians even available to these children in distress?

We write this letter as advocates for children who are not able to speak for themselves.

The Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut is committed to improving the mental and behavioral health of children and teens. Every day, our team of 55 counselors treat children who have experienced trauma from a range of circumstances, including community violence and physical abuse, the loss of parents, neglect caused by parental opioid abuse, and sexual abuse. Because we routinely see local kids struggling with these issues, the situation at the southern border is very real to us. We recognize how much pain these children are feeling. We understand all too well the professional support they’ll need to move on from this harrowing experience without long-term scars.

We work tirelessly to ensure that kids in our community who are struggling with mental health issues can go on to live happy and successful lives. The children at the border deserve no less. We urge you to contact your local legislators to ensure that these children get the help they need.

Georgette Harrison, Jessica Welt, Eliot Brenner, Rich Ostuw and Jill Gordon

Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut