July 10, 2019

One year ago, the AATA joined thousands of people and organizations across the country strongly condemning the Trump Administration’s systematically separating children from their caregivers. While Congress passed a border funding bill last week, which included health standards for both adults and children for “medical emergencies; nutrition, hygiene, and facilities; and personnel training,” many lawmakers and advocates believe that the protections aren’t strong enough. Members of Congress who recently visited migrant detention centers were outraged by the “dehumanizing” conditions, calling this a “humanitarian crisis” our government is creating.

Consistent with our Association’s core values and in support of trauma-informed practices, the AATA once again opposes any harmful practice or action that causes traumatic distress, psychological harm, or suffering as a result of inhumane conditions at detention centers. As mental health care professionals, the AATA’s members are in a position to speak to the physical and mental health ramifications these conditions have on both children and adults. Overcrowding, prolonged detention, and extreme negligence to basic hygiene and care have further exacerbated this humanitarian crisis. It is inconceivable that many families have fled violence and extreme poverty in their home countries and endured harrowing journeys only to be met by inhumane conditions when they finally reach the United States to seek asylum.




The AATA calls on federal officials and lawmakers to end these horrific conditions and champion trauma-informed practices that support a person’s right to feel safe, to be protected, and to live without fear and maltreatment.

Here are talking points to help guide the conversation, and tips on how to connect with your Representatives and Senators.


Talking points


  • Reunite the separated families. Separating families is traumatic and can have long-term and negative outcomes for children and their family members. These include: diminished ability to form healthy and safe attachments; adverse influence on early brain development and functioning that can result in heightened sensory responses, difficulty with self-regulation, and engaging in at-risk behaviors; challenges managing feelings and emotional expression; and an increased risk for depression, self-harm, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (See AATA’s Statement on the Traumatic Impact of Separating Children from Parents and Caregivers).
  • No child or adult should be held in less than humane conditions. According to a recent memo by the Office of Inspector General, visits to several U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Rio Grande Valley showed that CBP exceeded the 72-hour short-term custody limit in over thirty percent of the children in detention. Reports have also shown lack of showers, hygiene products, hot meals and adequate food to be routine. Assurances must be made that those held in detention have their basic nutritional, hygienic and medical needs met before we can hope to address their psychological needs resulting from trauma and uncertainty of the future.
  • Implement trauma training and improve accountability programs. There are immediate needs to ensure that workers who interact with detained individuals— including but not limited to CBP, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—have adequate trauma-informed training and are not exacerbating detainee’s traumas nor abusing their power when working with vulnerable individuals. Reports of a Facebook group where Border Patrol agents disparaged immigrants and lawmakers is one instance of a subculture in these organizations that dehumanizes the very people they are assigned to protect. Mechanisms that hold those who abuse their positions to account must also be evaluated and improved in order to end this pattern.


Three Action Items


  1. Call and email your Members of Congress! Find the contact information of your elected officials here. Introduce yourself as a constituent and an art therapist, start the conversation or message with your main point or call to action, and then use a few talking points to bolster your point of view.
  2. Refer to imagery; after all, an image is worth a thousand words. Art therapists often work with clients, including children, who have experienced severe trauma and understand that drawings often can tell more than words. Children’s drawings, released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, depict chilling scenes of themselves and other children behind bars.
  3. Write an op/ed piece or Letter to the Editor in your local newspaper. Not only will you grab the attention of your elected officials, you also will have the opportunity to persuade your community. You’ll also help increase awareness of art therapy by introducing yourself as an art therapist and mental health professional. Be sure to keep the piece short (around 750 words), put your main point on top and use your personal voice.