June 20, 2018 4:26 pm

Children separated from parents could face nightmares, PTSD down the road: experts

WATCH: A detention centre in Texas that was a former Walmart is filling up fast. It houses child migrants and shows the impact of the Trump administration's new zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents when they cross the U.S. border illegally. Jackson Proskow reports.


With the news of more than 2,300 children being separated from their families by U.S. border officials over the last six weeks, some health experts say this could lead to several psychological issues down the road.

Jillian Roberts, a child psychologist for Family Sparks, tells Global News it can be extremely damaging for the children involved.

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“This trauma can interfere with a child’s ability to function, learn, and trust relationships,” she says. “When children have a trauma reaction, it means they experience and re-experience the traumatic event over and over in memories.”

READ MORE: Babies and toddlers sent to ‘tender age’ shelters under Donald Trump’s child separations

She adds this could mean re-occurring nightmares or episodes that could develop into post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These children have no idea of what is happening, and aren’t aware of the political and legal fight that’s going on behind the scenes.”

She adds not speaking English may also cause a state of confusion or distress, and when they are taken away from parents specifically, children often go into the mindset that something “bad” will happen to them and their parents.

“The absolute — and only — right thing to do right now is to allow families to be together while this immigration policy is being figured out,” she adds.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would sign an executive order that would end the process of families being forcefully separated after crossing into the U.S.

“We want to keep families together. It’s very important,” Trump said during a White House meeting with members of Congress. “I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that.”

Long-lasting effects

Rebecca Nemiroff, a psychologist based in Gatineau, Que., says after spending years working with people who have been traumatized as children, she has seen what this could mean for them as they become adults.

“I am very familiar with the long-lasting and devastating effects these kinds of events can have,” she says. “Most often, we can point to a failure of the systems that are supposed to protect us. In this case, these systems are not only failing to protect but are in fact doing harm.”

Earlier this week, Nemiroff also wrote a letter to her MP, urging the Canadian government to condemn the Trump’s administration’s decisions.

READ MORE: How Canadians can help children separated from parents by U.S. border officials

“I felt it was important to use my position and my expertise to make a difference. As a Canadian citizen, I felt I needed to influence my government to take action. As a human being, I felt it was my moral duty to speak out.”

Horrible experiences

And the act of separation is traumatic enough. Leaked audio of 10 Central-American children released earlier this week showed Canadians the reality of children crying for their parents, and there have been many more images grasping these emotions as well.

Lauren Millman of Lauren Millman Family Counselling adds that traumatic events can also impact the child’s quality of life as they age.

“[It can impact] their personal and work relationships, their work ethic, abandonment, trust, emotional security and hope,” she tells Global News. “It is unimaginable, that as a First-World country, we’re watching on the news, children and babies in cages in sweltering weather, without the only parents and caregivers they know.”

READ MORE: Here’s how Canada deals with migrant parents, children and detention

“For children old enough to understand what’s going on, the trust of others, freedom and fairness, and the idea that they are safe will be one of their greatest psychological battles,” she explains.

“It is utterly unacceptable and beyond unconscionable to let this continue.”


© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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