Belated Thoughts on Family Separation
This week, our family marked the two-year anniversary of taking custody of our son. This year’s Custody-Day anniversary marked an interesting point of equilibrium in Isaac’s life: The day he’d officially spent an equal amount of time in our family as he had in his foster family before us.
Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute: Our son has been with us for two years and I can’t imagine a day when he wasn’t part of our lives. He is ours, through and through. And then, think about this: Having spent the previous two years raising Isaac, that’s exactly how his foster mom felt the day she was separated from him. It’s how he felt, too.
The anniversary of Custody Day is always a bittersweet one for our family. It’s all the more reason why I can’t help, today, but think about the more than 500 children still awaiting reunification with their parents at the U.S. border.
Consider this: For 17 months, as adoptive parents, we were counseled by a social worker dedicated to our case. Over time, we were told how to prepare for the trauma (yes, trauma) that would be induced from our son’s separation from his foster mother. We were told that he might grieve for weeks or even months for her. We were advised to watch closely for evidence of inability to attach. We were coached to isolate our son from everyone, possibly inviting no one to stay in our home for at least 30 days following custody in order to help him overcome his fear and shock and then eventually to be able to bond with us without confusion or interference. We did all of this and more.
And this was the protocol for people entering into this sort of arrangement willingly and with preparation. Because we were able to afford an adoption agency with dedicated support and a proven protocol that emphasized child welfare at every step, we were prepared and equipped for this.
I don’t say this lightly: Privilege bought us the psychological, emotional and practical tools we needed to prepare for, address and help our son recover from his trauma. Very few such resources (if any) are being afforded to families at the U.S. border.
And the consequences? One educator put it this way:
”Kids with chronic trauma, like those forced into cages and separated from their parents, have higher amounts of neurotoxins such as cortisol and are more likely to have stunted brain growth. As children with trauma get older, they have heightened activity in the brain stem and decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, as compared with children who don’t experience trauma. Since the prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in learning, school is more difficult for kids with trauma. Each victim of Trump’s detention centers is now at higher risk of mental illness, drug use and chronic illness.”
I’m nowhere near qualified to speculate on the lasting effects on children of this policy. But as a mother who has cried alongside her child as she knowingly separated him from the only other mother he’s ever known, I’ve experienced the immediate emotional consequences of a similar traumatic event.
What will be the outcome for these innocent children, with no social service resources like ours, who have been reduced to pawns in this administration’s political game?
I shudder to think.
Here’s a recent New York times report on the status of reuniting families.
Also, a recent CNN article on the lasting effects of family separation for one 13-year-old.
Finally, some ways we can help.