By: Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO
Posted: September 13, 2019

This message was sent to the NC congressional delegation, urging them to take action to prevent children from being separated from their parents at the border and to keep the well being of children paramount when parents are detained for immigration violations at the border and in their communities.

Neuroscience makes it clear that childhood experiences lay the foundation for the quality of brain development, health and prosperity into adulthood.  Children who grow up in safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments have the best opportunity to become educated, productive, healthy and engaged citizens into adulthood.

The most important relationships children have are with their parents.  When parent-child attachment is disrupted, it is extremely traumatic, having a negative impact on brain development.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, conducted more than 20 years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, made it clear that separation from parents – by divorce, parental incarceration, death, foster care or any other reason – is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can endure. It’s not only challenging emotionally, it creates Toxic Stress which changes the way the child’s brain develops and negatively impacts the immune system. Children who experience trauma hyper-develop their fight, freeze or flight instincts and under-develop the executive functioning portion of their brains necessary for learning, decision-making and relationship building. We can see this clearly in brain scans of children who have experienced this type of trauma compared to those who have not.

The legacy of inadequate childhood attachment poses a considerable burden for the individuals themselves, for society, and for public services. It is a key factor in intergenerational parenting difficulties, and predisposes children to substance abuse, temper problems, homelessness, promiscuity, early pregnancy, and criminality.  People who have experienced such extreme trauma are more likely to have behavior problems in school, become depressed, attempt suicide, develop diseases like heart disease and lung cancer, and are more likely to have difficulty in relationships.

In addition, the downstream consequences of toxic stress costs ALL of us an enormous amount of money – in NC alone, we spend $2 billion every year in health, social services, criminal justice, remedial education and lost worker productivity as a result of child abuse and neglect.  This is preventable when we invest in making sure all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing environments.  It’s good policy, it’s good medicine, and it is good for our wallets.

We know more than ever before about what helps children and adults overcome tough times. It’s all about the healing power of relationships. Science has revealed that relationships help build healthy brains, families and communities. We must assure that children who come into custody of our government are cared for with an understanding of this science.

This is why we are urging you to do everything in your power to take action to prevent children from being separated from their parents at the border and to keep the well being of children paramount when parents are detained for immigration violations at the border and in their communities. If children have to be separated from families, the policy priority must be placed on the well-being of children and assuring the conditions in which they are detained are safe, nurturing and staffed by personnel who use trauma-informed practice to care for the children in their custody.

We are not expert in immigration policy, but we are leading NC in protecting all children from emotional, physical and sexual abuse within our communities and families. We urge you to take action to ensure children’s well being is the top priority when their parents are detained, that trauma-informed practice be required in facilities that house children separated from their parents and that every effort is made to prevent children from being separated from their families. We are ready to provide guidance and support as you work to achieve this goal.