In her article of June 23, 2018 (“Separation anxiety exists right here”), Sue Lani Madsen compared the separation of refugee children at our border to children separated by foster care. I feel that such a comparison is misleading. Although separating children from their parents is always costly, the differences in these two situations are significant.
My husband and I were foster parents for 20 years, during the last 15 of which we founded and operated a comprehensive evaluation and early intervention program serving entire families. I completely agree that we need to do much better both for children caught up in the foster care system and for their families (In fact I recently co-authored a book concluding that very thing).
In both cases these are children already traumatized: refugee children by the wars and violence from which they are fleeing with their families; foster children by the abuse, neglect, or failure to protect perpetrated by their families.
In both cases a governmental agency has re-traumatized the children by separating them from their parents. The goal in separating children placed in foster care is to protect the children and to rehabilitate the parents; the goal in separating refugee children is to punish or deter the parents.
The right thing to do in both cases is to embrace the entire family with compassion. What stands in the way in the foster care system is largely inadequate funding. What stands in the way with a “zero tolerance” border policy is fear.
Janet C. Mann