Be a helper: Responding to the separation of children and families at our borders



The images of immigrant children separated from parents and the sounds of their cries are permeating my days and nights. For many parents, grandparents, teachers, child life specialists, and mental health professionals, the cruelty and violations of human rights being committed against innocent children are leaving us reeling and wondering what to do. For me, it brings to mind children of the Holocaust, including the Children of Lidice whom I learned of during my work in the Czech Republic. When dehumanization is a matter of government policy, how far are we from the atrocities suffered by children during World War II, and by children today who flee with their families for their safety from countries torn by war, terrorism, and poverty?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a statement opposing the separation of children from their families at our borders. They refer to the actions of our government as child abuse and speak to the long-term damage that this will cause to the developing brains of these children.

“Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians – protecting and promoting children’s health. In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”




Many professionals and lay-people are wondering what we can do to help. Many of us are signing petitions, calling our senators and representatives, and coordinating to demonstrate in Washington, DC and in our own home states.  The Association of Child Life Professionals  ACLP issued this statement opposing the traumatic separation of children from their families by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ACLP shares the concerns outlined in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Policy Statement on the Detention of Immigrant Childrenand urges that all children housed in government facilities receive evidence-based, developmentally appropriate care in order to minimize the negative psychological impact of family separation. Any facility housing children should be staffed with professionals trained in child development and the emotional and psychosocial care of children. ACLP urges the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to limit family separation and encourages U.S. policymakers to advocate for the emotional and physical safety needs of all children.


I reached out to  Child Life Disaster Relief , and they have released this statement:

Child Life Disaster Relief is currently working thoughtfully to determine how we can support children and families being effected in a purposeful, sustainable, and effective manner.  We will provide updates on this progress as soon as any are available. In the meantime, if you are looking for action to take, please contact your state representatives and express your professional opposition to this crisis.

Some of my Bank Street College colleagues are volunteering with the New Sanctuary Coalition to support immigrants and families moving through the NYC court system, an extraordinarily dehumanizing encounter in and of itself. Add to it the fact that family members (including children) are afraid to show up to support their detained loved ones, for fear that they too will be detained and shackled (Yes, detainees, some who have lived in this country for many years, are dressed in orange jumpsuits and shackled for court appearances and transportation!).  Mayor DeBlasio spoke out about NYC’s role in the federal process. We have over 200 children in East Harlem, a stone’s throw away from where I live, being dumped into an over-saturated fostercare system that is broken in the best of times. The federal government refuses to tell the mayor and our governor where these children are being held

As if that weren’t enough to shatter these children — THERE IS NO PLAN IN PLACE TO REUNITE THEM WITH THEIR FAMILIES! It feels unspeakable to even write that down. The damage that has been done to these children will affect them the rest of their lives.


It is disturbing to write this — to choose images to portray the depth of this cruelty — to not have easy answers to warm our hearts — Let our hearts not be warmed — Let them instead be ignited in flames of outrage! Let our voices be heard – to amplify the cries of the children. Let us not be bystanders. Let us communicate our horror to our representatives in government. Let us step in and vote in ways that will not allow for this kind of thing to become another Holocaust. Let us search our communities for volunteer opportunities to offer direct aid to these children and families. Let us lend our financial support to organizations like the ACLU that has the clout and structure to approach this disaster. Check out individual families in need on sites like, and

Our children ARE our humanity – and all children are OUR CHILDREN.


3 thoughts on “Be a helper: Responding to the separation of children and families at our borders

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s