The family separation policy has separated at least 2,300 undocumented immigrant children from their parents and placed them in governmental care in shelters and foster homes across the United States. For young children in particular, the sudden and frightening removal from their parents is strikingly traumatic. Far from home, alone, and in a country where they do not speak the language, it is not difficult to imagine the feelings of terror and isolation these children must be feeling.
Timely and attuned intervention is needed to provide children with the support to understand what has happened to them and to help them manage the traumatic stress and feelings of danger that are likely to be overwhelming. Foster parents and shelter workers across the country have quickly been tasked with this daunting responsibility. It is not difficult to imagine how overwhelmed these alternative caregivers may be feeling.
As early childhood clinicians and researchers, we have developed resources to help those caring for recently separated immigrant children.
Letter to Alternative Caregivers
A letter that presents the idea of SAFE Communication to assist alternative caregivers to help the children begin to make sense of what has happened to them and offers strategies to increase the children’s sense of safety and protection. This tool also provides concrete suggestions for bridging the likely language barrier between the caregiver and the child. Short and easily accessible, this tool is aimed at providing foster parents much needed support in their endeavor to help traumatized children.
"Cecilia and the Long Walk," a children's story & coloring book
A children’s story - Cecilia and the Long Walk - meant to help children understand their recent experience, providing language to help organize internal confusion and terror. The story is presented as a coloring book, with version available in both English and Spanish.
"Cecilia y la Larga Caminata," audio recording
An audio recording of Cecilia and the Long Walk (Cecilia y la Larga Caminata) is also available on YouTube so that children can listen and watch the story being read in their native language.
Letter to Agencies
A letter that presents the idea of SAFE Communication to assist agencies who are reunifying children with their families to help the children begin to make sense of what happened to them and offers strategies to increase the children’s sense of understanding and safety moving forward. This tool provides sample language to share with parents as they begin to help their children cope. Short and easily accessible, this tool is aimed at providing agencies much needed support in their endeavor to reunify children and families.
Resource for Schools
This brief guide is designed to provide an overview of detention, deportation, and other immigration-related stressors and their effects on children and families, as well as suggestions for how school personnel can support families in the context of this unique stressor. Created by faculty at Marquette University.
We hope these materials are helpful and we thank you for your part in caring for the children. As you find these resources helpful, we hope that you will share them with others. Please use #SeparationIsTrauma as you share on social media. For questions or inquiries please contact us at Separatedchildren2018@gmail.com.
Julie Ribaudo, LMSW, IMH-E Nichole Paradis, LMSW, IMH-E
Clinical Associate Professor Executive Director
University of Michigan Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health
Sara F. Stein, LLMSW, MS Paige Safyer, LLMSW, MS
Doctoral Candidate Doctoral Candidate
Social Work and Clinical Psychology Social Work and Developmental Psychology
University of Michigan University of Michigan
The authors of "Cecilia and the Long Walk" and the accompanying resources were interviewed by Patrick Meehan on the podcast, Social Work & Politics, where they discuss the theory and motivation behind the project. The episode is titled, "Family Separation & Trauma" and is dated July 11, 2018.
The Center on Immigration & Child Welfare (CICW) has multiple research briefs on the intersection of immigration and child welfare. Read them all here.
Wiley’s Research4Reform campaign shares a free content collection that discusses psychological trauma, implications of policy and law, and environmental influences, as it relates to child-parent separation. Find the full collection here.