June 20, 2018

The AATA wishes to respond to the deleterious and traumatic effects that separating children from their parents and caregivers can have on their well-being. Of great concern is the appalling separation of children from their parents as a result of the Trump Administration’s enforcement of the “zero tolerance” policy for families crossing the US-Mexican Border (June, 2018).  Even as the separation practice is halted, steps need to be taken to re-unify the children with their families, ameliorate the trauma that has already been inflicted, and prevent future trauma.  This decision and corresponding actions have resulted in national outrage by the mental health, child welfare, and trauma-informed communities who fiercely oppose this unnecessary and incredibly distressing action.  The AATA condemns the atrocities being inflicted on children and families.

As defined by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.  Witnessing a traumatic event that threatens life or physical security of a loved one can also be traumatic.  This is particularly important for young children as their sense of safety depends on the perceived safety of their attachment figures.”  Incidents and encounters of childhood separation and traumatic loss may involve but is not limited to abuse and neglect, war, migration, immigration, foster care, military deployment, natural and human-created disasters, family and community violence, as well as life- threatening illness, and the sudden loss of a loved one (NCTSN, 2018).

Exposure to trauma can have long-term and negative outcomes on children and their family members, including:

  • 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;
  • High anxiety and stress that place children and their parents/caregivers at an increased risk for depression, self-harm, and post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Struggles with attention, problem-solving, cognition, and learning;
  • Negative views impacting sense of self, worth, and the future;
  • Stress on parents/caregivers who are unsure where their children were placed and when they will be reunited;
  • Potential increases in high-risk behaviors and harmful outcomes related to mental and physical health, relationships, illness, and stress that have been linked to exposure to traumatic experiences.

Consistent with the AATA’s core values and support of trauma-informed practices, the Association opposes any harmful practice or action that causes traumatic distress, psychological harm, or suffering as a result of removing children from their family.  The AATA strongly appeals to federal officials, policy makers, key stakeholders, and advocates for children everywhere to champion trauma-informed practices that support a child’s right to feel safe, be protected, and to live without fear and maltreatment.  The AATA stands with the mental health community, professionals, and other organizations to voice the long-term effects of trauma on youth, and to advocate for actions and policies that mitigate these effects.

The AATA offers these trauma informed resources for more information:

— The AATA Board of Directors