We at the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing are deeply concerned for the toddlers, children, adolescents, and their parents who have been traumatically separated at our border with Mexico. As clinical professionals with extensive first-hand experience in the treatment of traumatized children and adults, we join our voices with those expressing alarm.
Many experts and professionals in the field of child welfare have already brought to public attention the well-documented adverse impacts of traumatic separation on children. The list of empirical studies is long and persuasive. However, we do not need those studies to convince us, because we see daily the brutal and long-lasting effects of traumatic separations (including parental incarceration, deportation, and death) on the young clients we serve. Knowing what we know, it is anguishing to imagine what is going on right now inside these young minds and hearts.
The presence of a caring, loving adult provides comfort and can help regulate a child’s distress. This is a critical protective factor that builds resilience. Before being traumatically separated from a loving adult, these children endured extreme hardship in their countries and on their difficult journeys to the border in search of asylum. It is deeply troubling to know that policy prohibits the detention center workers from reassuring these children in acute emotional pain by holding or hugging them. We fear the damage will be immeasurable.
It is also true that the mental health profession has made enormous strides in the treatment of trauma over recent decades. We now have effective evidence-based interventions at our disposal, developed as a result of many years of research. We use many of these interventions at the Wendt Center. We know there is hope for recovery and healthy functioning for those who have endured devastating trauma. Recovery, however, requires that children and adults can access these and other healing services. There are many barriers, including cost, time, language, transportation, flexibility, and other practical issues that demand an extraordinary commitment on the part of private and public institutions to make them available and affordable.
We who devote our work and our lives to helping children and families overcome the debilitating consequences of traumas that are unforeseen, unintended, or generally prohibited by our laws and norms, are immensely troubled by the avoidable infliction of trauma on the exceptionally vulnerable children and families on our southern border. Very recently, the Center received its first formal grant to provide mental health services to immigrants and refugees. We look forward to implementing services that will allow us be part of a solution and will return hope to those in our region who are affected by this tragedy.
The Staff of the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing