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Children’s Center (Clackamas County, Oregon) Position Statement on the Trauma of Family Separation

In recent months, widespread public attention has been devoted to the separation of families who are attempting to immigrate to the United States. While there is understandable confusion about the federal policies and practices resulting in these separations, a considerable body of evidence points to the serious, long-term consequences of removing children from the custody of their parents. Children’s Center does not take a political position on immigration law. However, as a nationally-accredited children’s advocacy center, we feel it is our responsibility to help inform civic dialogue by calling public attention to the adverse effects of involuntary separation. The statement below has been prepared by Clinic staff members with decades of experience helping children overcome the trauma of abuse and neglect.

Separating children from their parents or caregivers is a traumatic event that can result in both immediate harm and long-term adverse effects. Children’s Center is heartened by recent changes in federal policy that are intended to reunite children who have been involuntarily separated from their parents. However, we remain deeply concerned about how such separations will affect the ongoing physical and mental health of the children involved. While the Center’s primary focus is assessing children in Clackamas County, we are also obligated to advocate for all children — regardless of where they were born.

Research shows that when children endure Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) — traumatic or abusive events such as involuntary separation from a parent or caregiver — the psychological stress they suffer has the potential to negatively impact their brain and physical health and put their long-term wellness at risk. Repeated traumatic events can even modify the way a child’s genes are expressed.

To grow into healthy adulthood and properly cope with stress, all children need to be cared for by a nurturing adult they can trust and with whom they feel safe. Without the presence of a supportive parent or caregiver, children face both negative short-term and long-term effects, including a higher risk for chronic disease as an adult.

At Children’s Center, we work tirelessly to support and advocate for children who have endured neglect and abuse. It is imperative that children be reunited with their families as quickly as possible and receive proper care to address the effects of trauma from the separation. Toward that end, we will continue raising our voices to champion the health of children everywhere.

We ask you to participate in the dialogue by commenting below, contacting your elected officials, and sharing our statement with friends and family members. We also encourage you to learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and the effects of traumatic events on children.

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