Parent-Child Border Separations: Supports to Invoke Humanitarianism

This article is provided to ACSA by Dr. Pedro Olvera from Brandman University, an ACSA Partner4Purpose

Horrifically, an estimated 2,000 undocumented immigrant children have been separated from their families along the southwest United States border and placed in facilities that have been described as “cages.”  Several politicians and religious leaders have called this practice “immoral”, “cruel”, and a “humanitarian and national crises”.  President Donald Trump and his supporters claim that the present administration is just “enforcing the law” (Stokols & Bierman, 2018).  Regardless of the political ideology that one embraces, one must agree that this abrupt separation of children from their caretakers is cruel and harmful to their psychological and medical health.  To highlight this point, almost 20 years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted the position that any and all decisions made that affect children should reflect their best interests.  This position also stipulates that children should be cared for and protected from violence and exploitation (UN, 1989).  
As mentioned above, this abrupt parent-child removal has harmful effects.  For example, children which have experienced this trauma and emotional maltreatment have demonstrated sleeping and eating disruptions, extreme crying, depression, anxiety, fear, and aggression all which can adversely affect success in social and academic settings.  Furthermore, this hasty separation interferes with the bonding and attachment that naturally evolve in “typical” parent-child relationships.  In many cases, this separation can be irreversible and tragic.  In critiquing this Administration’s policy of separation, Dr. Colleen Kraft, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called this policy “child abuse” and “toxic stress.” With regards to toxic stress, Dr. Kraft explained that it inhibits brain development which in turn interferes with all aspects of child development.  The American Psychological Association (APA) also criticized this policy of separation citing the social, emotional, and academic consequences that are resultant of this type of treatment. 
Schools are ground zero and the future placements for the children that have been separated from their families.  Knowing the harmful and detrimental effects that these separations have, administrators are in a unique position to provide systemic supports to ensure smooth transitions and educational placements for these children.  The following are suggestions that can have major impact at your school sites: 
  • Release a Statement- In all applicable languages at your school site- indicating that your school welcomes immigrant families as a public affirmation. 
  • Make your school psychologists or other mental health professionals readily available for counseling for those students that have families that are detained. 
  • Circulate “know your rights” to students, families and communities informing them as to what to do if an ICE raid occurs or an individual is detained.
  • Allocate a safe space for students to wait in the event that a family member has been detained. 
  • Provide a resource guide, such as the names of mental health providers, social workers, pro bono attorneys, and organizations to share with your students and their families
  • Appoint a bilingual staff at your school who can operate as the immigration resource advocate on your campus. 
  • Collaborate with parents to develop an immigration raid contingency emergency plan. 
  • Collaborate with local community-based organizations that support the needs of unaccompanied children.
In summary, although much more can be done, the abovementioned coupled with strong moral support for these children can make a big difference.  The actions being taken upon these children are not a matter of politics but of a humanitarian cause to protect  an vulnerable population, the children.   For many children that have been separated from their families, schools have proven to be a place of safety and acceptance.  Let’s keep it that way.  For more information or resources please contact Dr. Pedro Olvera at  
Stokols, E. & Bierman, N. (March, 2018).  Backlash builds against Trump's policy splitting families at border, as he falsely blames Democrats.  Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from:
The rights of the child: The United Nations convention adopted on 20 November 1989. 
(1990). AFER, 32(3), 123-144.
Dr. Pedro Olvera is an Associate Professor for the School Psychology and School Counseling programs at Brandman University. He is also the current President of the California Association of School Psychologists (CASP).  His work is primarily dedicated towards the academic success of English Language Learners (ELLs) and immigrant students, social justice matters in education, and the reduction of disproportionate placement of children of color in special education.

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