Child Separation

Statement from the Association for Child Psychoanalysis on how children of all ages are hurt by being separated from parents

June 18, 2018

The quickest way to hurt a child is to separate him or her from caretaking parents (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980; Freud, A., 1941; Rutter, 2002).  Our country’s child protection laws protect this basic human right of children and parents to stay together unless there is evidence of harm in the parent-child relationship.  Likewise, most religions also consider the parent-child relationship sacrosanct.  Slavery, mandatory boarding schools for native Americans or internment of the Japanese[1] forced separations of children and parents and in so doing dehumanized these groups.  Parents are severely harmed by this as well, as in the father so devastated by separation from his child and wife he took his life.[2]   The border patrol who wondered why Marco Antonio Muñoz, 39, would commit suicide and never see his family again failed to recognize that children and parents alike suffer profound psychological and physiological separation distress that can be fatal.  The image of the two-year old Honduran girl in the red top crying as her mother is searched in McAllen, Texas has brought tears to the world’s eyes[3].  The inconsolable two-year old described at a facility where they are not allowed to touch the child[4] is evidence of toxic trauma wrought by these forced separations (Freud, A., 1972).  Spitz showed that children who are not touched can die (1951).  We are not like machines that just need any old electrical outlet to run; we are highly programmed to be in close physical contact with caregiving figures, and the food, ministrations, cleaning, clothing and comfort provided by those caregiving parents go together with this caring figure.   An infant who loses his or her mother but gets formula and clothes is nonetheless a starving infant.  Though older children with speech and the ability to hold in mind that they will see said parent again can survive separations, they, too profoundly suffer if they are given no information as to when next they will see a parent.  Older children and adolescents are still highly psychologically dependent on parents for their physical and mental well-being.  By law, the first eighteen years of a child’s life are protected from forced separations from parents in this country.  It is imperative that infants, toddlers, school-aged children, including adolescents, and their parents have this most basic human right inviolate to effectively protect physical and psychological health.

References

Bowlby J (1999) [1969]. Attachment. Attachment and Loss (vol. 1) (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00543-8LCCN 00266879OCLC 11442968. NLM 8412414.

Bowlby J (1973). Separation: Anxiety & Anger. Attachment and Loss (vol. 2); (International psycho-analytical library no.95). London: Hogarth Press. ISBN 0-7126-6621-4OCLC 8353942.

Bowlby J (1980). Loss: Sadness & Depression. Attachment and Loss (vol. 3); (International psycho-analytical library no.109). London: Hogarth Press. ISBN 0-465-04238-4OCLC 59246032

 

Freud, A. (1972). Comments on Aggression. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 53:163-171

 

 

Rutter, M. (2002). “Nature, Nurture, and Development: From Evangelism through Science toward Policy and Practice”. Child Development73 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00388PMID 14717240.

 

Spitz, R.A. (1951). The Psychogenic Diseases in Infancy—An Attempt at their Etiologic ClassificationPsychoanal. St. Child, 6:255-275

 

[1] Washington Post, May 31, 2018: ” ‘Barbaric’: America’s cruel history of separating children from their parents,” by DeNeen Brown.

[2] Washington Post, June 9, 2018: “A Famly was separated at the border, and this distraught father took his own life” by Nick Miroff.

[3] New York Times, June 16, 2018: “How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families,” by Julie Hirschfeld David and Michael D. Shear.

[4] Washington Post, June 16, 2018: “ ‘America is better than this’: what a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children,” by Kristine Phillips.