Beserra and Sagor: Traumatized children face a long, difficult recovery | Justice Resource Institute

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Our Navigator personally answers questions and talks with you about resources that may be available in the community to meet your individualized needs. If you have any questions about our programs or services, or aren't sure what you need, contact our Service Navigator, Rachel Arruda, and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.

Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.

Beserra and Sagor: Traumatized children face a long, difficult recovery

The Trump administration’s misguided policy of separating children from parents when those parents are detained due to illegal border crossing may have just been reversed, but the trauma these children will endure could easily last a lifetime.

We have spent our careers helping traumatized children recover and it is seldom a quick sprint. More like a cross-country race where sometimes the runner has the endurance, and sometimes they don’t.

For the children who have been wrenched away from their parents by the U.S. government after a long, treacherous journey, where they were likely often deprived of basic human necessities, intensive trauma-informed care will be required to overcome this ordeal.

The role of a parent and/or family in the emotional development and well-being of a child is so critical. The parent/family plays the integral role in helping a child learn to relate, to understand who they are, and to develop into an independent, healthy person. Secure caregiving relationships and connections serve as the foundation for all future developmental competencies. When children trust that caregivers will consistently be there for them, they learn early on about unconditional relationships that will support them throughout future challenges they encounter in life.

The loss of a primary caregiver whether temporarily or permanently, is one of the most damaging forms of childhood trauma. These children, though, have even more to contend with then the separation from their parent.

We also know from extensive research that chaotic and in-flux living environments can also significantly traumatize youth. This would speak to the significant trauma caused by forcing a child to flee and then removing them from their family. We have seen several clients who have undergone such an ordeal.

The trauma of the impact of the move from family into a refugee camp is just as significant as the trauma witnessed during the journey. Children that we have cared for in similar circumstances presented with significant trauma symptoms, including hypervigilance, inability to tolerate stress, psychosis, hallucinations, inability to form healthy relationships, ongoing nightmares and sleep deprivation, extreme depression and anxiety, and overall daily moment-to-moment suffering.

Children learn the most about relationships and safety during these critical early years of development. When family is able to respond to their needs, children learn that adults can be a source of support and can provide safety in the world. It is this core value that becomes the basis for future relationships in schools, with peers and across the journey of life.

When caregivers are separated from their children and physically unable to respond to their needs for connection and comfort, children can develop maladaptive strategies to meet those needs which can put them at risk.

Children are dependent on adults for their physical and psychological safety. When a child is crying out literally or figuratively for their caregiver and no one responds, their biological response is that they are being threatened. Whether real or perceived, the same biological process begins.

The frontal lobe of our brain that allows children to participate in higher order thinking – to think logically, delay impulses and solve problems – essentially turns off. Children then find themselves at the mercy of the limbic system where the ultimate goal is survival. In these moments, without access to their caregivers – either in reality or perceived – to support their regulation, they are left experiencing panic and fear that can be stored in their bodies for many years.

The reversal of the separation policy will spare children entering the country now who would have otherwise been separated from what could be a lifetime of trauma.

For those who were less fortunate and were separated from their detained parents, let’s hope they get the care they need to overcome such remarkable trauma.

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