How forcible separation from parents affects children

There are times when termination of parental rights is absolutely necessary to protect a child. When there are cases of sexual abuse, starvation and severe beatings, there is no doubt in anyone’s minds that these children need to be removed immediately. While these are the cases that make the news in Florida, they do not represent every juvenile dependency scenario.

Sometimes, poverty, substance abuse or immigration violations could have resulted in children being forcibly separated from their parents. In these instances, children may have no desire to be apart from their guardians. They may only take solace in their mother or father’s reassurance that it will only be temporary. But, in that moment of loss, children suffer. They suffer even more when that separation becomes permanent.

According to the Washington Post, during forcible separation, children are flooded with cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Their heart rate also rises. Over time, cortisol can cause long-term psychological damage, as well as damage to the structure of the brain. To illustrate this, the article cited a study involving the effects of the former “celibacy tax” in Romania. It banned birth control and abortions and taxed families with less than five children. The result was that orphanages became overrun with children whose parents could not afford to care for them.

During the study, children were hitting themselves, rocking uncontrollably and even beating their heads into the walls. The Harvard researchers behind the study also noticed that children who were separated from their parents at a young age had less white matter and gray matter, which are both necessary for transmitting information, processing information and solving problems.

Recently, America has faced its own separation crisis. Americans have become increasingly concerned about the fate of children who are forcibly separated from their parents during immigration proceedings. One study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine concluded that these children, particularly those separated at the border, will suffer from neurobiological and age-specific psychiatric problems. In the study, exposure to severe stress in childhood was also linked to adult psychiatric disorders.

Regardless of why a child is separated from their parents against their will, the results can be traumatic. Some children may later become adopted by good families who provide a safe and stable home for them to adjust and recover. However, there is no telling when the effects of that original separation and the resulting trauma will rear its ugly head.

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Beverly L . Brennan A PARTNER AT MCLAUGHLIN & STERN, LLP - NAPLES, FLORIDA ATTORNEY & COUNSELOR AT LAW

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