During the most recent policy of immigrant family separation, more than 2,500 migrant children have been separated from their parents as they entered the United States — parents being referred to prosecution and children being turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This current crisis has led many people to think about the traumatic, long-term impacts family separation has on immigrant children as they cross the border. The truth is that although this policy of mass separation may have seemed sudden, family separation has always taken many forms during the migration process.
Oftentimes, migrating families find themselves in separate countries, whether it be because some family members choose to fare the journey first as others wait or because families are forcibly separated due to deportation. With long-term or temporary separation comes the possibility of that experience becoming traumatic for children.
Children are at a high risk of experiencing trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before, during, and after migration — but family separation increases this risk. No child is “too young” to remember the harmful experiences of migration, including being separated from their parents.
Studies have shown that toxic stress in early childhood can lead to lifelong mental health problems. Children coping with trauma, such as family separation, are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidality as they grow older. Immigration detention allows for these experiences to become even more persistent.
Migration-related family separation, especially between a mother and child, has been recognized as having negative psychological impacts on both children and parents that persist even after they’ve been reunited. Untreated trauma is a large concern for children, who tend to repress their distress after a traumatic experience. Delayed PTSD can develop within these individuals and leads to the manifestation of PTSD symptoms long after a traumatic experience.
It’s important to not only care for the families who are experiencing separation at the border now, but for all immigrant families who have experienced trauma. For some familias though, mental health treatment hasn’t been their priority after a traumatic immigration experience. That’s where we want to help.
Support is available for Latino immigrant families right here in the Triangle. El Futuro is a local, trusted organization that takes cares of children and familias who have endured a variety of immigration experiences, including those who have been affected by the most recent crisis at the border. Besides the current crisis, there are other immigration policies, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that have affected the immigrant community and families we serve.
El Futuro provides trauma-focused care in the form of individual, family, and group treatments. Through the use of evidence-based approaches with strong outcomes, El Futuro works to nurture stronger familias to live out their dreams and feel whole again.
When we last surveyed our clients two years ago, 54 percent had come to our community as unaccompanied minors — a journey usually filled with traumatic experiences, including family separation. The majority of El Futuro clients struggle with trauma symptoms, with primary diagnoses of Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders such as PTSD, and Substance Use Disorder.
The good news is that effective treatments are available to help children and families heal from these painful events.
“Fortunately, we’re learning more and more about trauma-informed approaches that really do help people recover from these traumatic events. We’ve seen the difference right here at El Futuro since implementing Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) as treatment approaches,” said Molly Hayes, MEd, LPCS, Manager of Clinical Programs at El Futuro.
Molly adds, “Just this month I celebrated with a client who has struggled with trauma symptoms related to his migration experience for many years. After completing a course of CPT, he is now more hopeful for the future than ever before. He’s able to talk about bad experiences as really terrible things that happened, but not things that define who he is. He knows he has a life and a future outside of those experiences. And in fact, he is no longer struggling with the trauma symptoms that he struggled with for so many years.”
If you know of families struggling with the impacts of separation who could benefit from additional support, connect with our services or refer someone to our clinics here.