Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), released the following statement on the federal administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families at the U.S. Border:
“One of the hallmarks of Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) is its strong commitment to the belief that every child has the right to the stability of a permanent family of his or her own. That commitment is what brought me to ACNJ. After several years working in the state foster care system, I knew all too well about the damage that separation can do to children, even when it is necessary.
“That is why I have watched in horror at the forced separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents at the nation’s southern border. The images and stories coming from the detention facilities are heartbreaking. This policy hurts children irreparably. ACNJ strongly opposes the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice’s policy and practice of removing children from their parents, and urges the Departments to immediately end this policy.
“In our child welfare work, ACNJ has long supported a policy of keeping families intact as long as a child’s safety can be protected. Federal and state laws recognize the traumatic impact that separation has on a child and mandate efforts to keep families together, whenever possible. If a child must be removed from the home for safety reasons, the state must first make every effort to find other family members to care for the child. Once placed in foster care, efforts must be made to reunify the child and parents as soon as possible. Visits and other contact with the child are required. This wholesale removal of children from their parents is counter to the long-held federal and state policy of keeping children and families together.
“There is considerable research about the significant harm of separating children from their parents and family. Even when necessary, it is an inherently traumatic event, causing long-term damage. The importance of a child’s close relationship with a caregiver cannot be overestimated. Through relationships with important attachment figures, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world.
“Forcing children apart from their parents, after an already arduous journey from their homelands in order to seek refuge from violence, can impact brain development, increase the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and can cause serious medical and health consequences for these children and families. The stress is compounded by the child not knowing when they will see the parent again, or the prospect of the parent facing deportation, leaving the child behind in the U.S.
“Although many of these forced family separations are happening in Texas, it is an issue for New Jersey, too. The immigration detention facility in Elizabeth also houses parents who have been separated from their children while the parent awaits immigration proceedings.
“As a mother and grandmother, I understand what we all innately know – that a child needs their parents and family. No matter where they live, children should not be a bargaining chip. Their protection must be a priority for all of us.
“New Jersey’s congressional representatives must send a strong message to this administration that the cruel policy of family separation cannot continue. In New Jersey, politicians from both parties have routinely recognized the importance of preserving families and protecting children. ACNJ calls on them to stand up for kids by denouncing this policy and urging the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to immediately reverse it.”
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide, non-profit child research and action organization, committed to giving every child the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.