Family Separation: A Need for “Common Sense and a Heart”

My friend of some years asked to remain anonymous as she explains the dangers of the federal government policy of separately detaining children, even infants and toddlers, of families crossing the border into the US, a policy now in chaos with promises to end it but no clear plan to reunite the 2,000 or so children already put into institutional and foster care. The writer has a degree in psychology and about eight years in the field, including in group homes for teens and pre-teens, working a job she described as needing “common sense and a heart.”

Michael Bilow

A recently leaked image shows dozens of immigrants in orange jumpsuits, their hands and feet shackled, undergoing a "mass trial" in Pecos, Texas, a small town roughly 70 miles southwest of Odessa. (Source: The Intecept via The Houston Chronicle)

A recently leaked image shows dozens of immigrants in orange jumpsuits, their hands and feet shackled, undergoing a “mass trial” in Pecos, Texas, a small town roughly 70 miles southwest of Odessa.
(Source: The Intecept via The Houston Chronicle)

Our houses are a little beaten up after years of kids punching walls, but they’re not in bad shape. Some of the kids have their own bedroom, and the rest only have to share with one or two others. The houses are all bigger and nicer than the one that I grew up in, that’s for sure. We provide good food. We can put a wardrobe together for kids who come in with nothing. All of the houses have TV sets and video games. As far as creature comforts go, we take care of these kids.

Despite freedom to come and go for school, appointments and visits, they still get up in each other’s space. We never have more than 10 kids in a house, but with only six or seven they complain of feeling packed and arguments break out over nothing.

Every single one of these kids in a group home has been removed from their parent or primary caregiver. Each of these children experienced removal and relocation, traumatic all on its own especially if removed against their will. By the time they reach us, kids usually have experienced multiple adverse childhood traumas, so we provide mental health and psychiatric services.

Even with:

  • Less than 10 kids
  • All basic needs met
  • Comfortable living space
  • Electronics and TV
  • Mental health support
  • A desire to get away from their caregivers
  • Contact with healthy caregivers

These kids are still fucking miserable. All of these kids just want something that feels like home with a family who cares about them, not a group living facility that is, no matter what, worse for a kid than being with supportive family.

While I was at work with these kids in state care – separated from their families and floated around from placement to placement – someone I know posted on Facebook saying these undocumented kids in detention centers are “fine,” because they have TV sets and three warm meals a day, and that’s all you need to be “fine.”

There is literally nothing that anyone could ever say or do to convince me that these kids are “fine.”

These children in many cases have been literally pried away from supportive caregivers and put into a converted warehouse where they are kept with other kids in cages, or dumped into a foster care system that is too overburdened to support the kids already in it. These kids aren’t given enough – or often any – mental health support. I don’t care if they’re watching big screen TVs. I don’t care if Taylor Swift comes and sings them lullabies every night. I don’t care if they eat thousand-dollar ice cream sundaes off of gold plates for breakfast. They are far from home, separated from their families and often have no idea what’s going to happen to them. They’re not “fine.”

I have met hundreds and hundreds of kids who have been removed from their caregivers. and I would define zero of them as “fine,” especially the ones who had good relationships with their caregivers and were separated against their will. Kids in detention centers are in arguably worse conditions without nearly as much support.

It’s not often that I’ll say “take it from me” but – please – take it from me: Do not let anyone convince you that our government is doing anything for these kids other than traumatizing and destroying them. What level of uninformed detachment must someone have in order to think that a TV set makes this okay?

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