Child Development Charities Urge U.S. Administration to Halt Child Separation at the Southern Border (Or Not)

The world is becoming horrified by the news and pictures coming out of the U.S. on the administration’s policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at the U.S. southern border.

Lines of tired people, children in tow, are stressed after a migration through two or three countries. Their hopes for a better life, a life free from violence and poverty, lies one step beyond where they now stand. These families probably have a better idea than most of us what cruelty looks like well before they arrived at the border, but did they really expect their children could be taken out of their arms and removed from their lives without them even knowing where those children are being taken?

That level of cruelty is an awakening for all of us—people who have freedom of movement, freedom of speech and care about children beyond those in our own families.

The practice of taking children out of the arms of their parents goes against nature. Not your nature or my nature. It goes against Nature. Period.

Children need to be with their parents. It’s how they manage to survive until they reach adulthood. That’s not an ideological issue. It’s a scientific fact. A child’s attachment to a caring adult is the biological imperative that keeps a child alive and why a child’s cry leads to intervention.

But on May 7, 2018 U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration decided to double-down on separating children from their parents as a part of a “zero tolerance” policy intended to “deter new migrants,” as reported in the New York Times on May 7, 2018.

And the administration has been now vigorously applying this zero tolerance policy to families legally seeking asylum at the U.S. southern board. The children’s ages range from infants to teenagers. Parents are not being told where their children being held and are, reportedly, only intermittently able to have phone call. The practice has been going on since at least October and ramped up since Sessions announcement.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has filed a class action lawsuit citing the due process clause federal law protecting asylum seekers and the government’s own policy about keeping families in tact.

Senator Jeff Merkley ((D-Ore.) described to NBC seeing recently arrived immigrants held in “cages that looked a lot like dog kennels” at a Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, where children were also being separated from their parents.

The UNHCR has issued a statement saying “the practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

“While the rights of children are generally held in high regard in the US, it is the only country in the world not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We encourage it to accede to the Convention and to fully respect the rights of all children,” their statement adds.

The White House response was to say Senator Merkley was, “allow[ing] violent criminal aliens to flood into American communities.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley responded by saying that the UN “ignorantly attack(ing)” the US was evidence of “hypocrisy.”

Given how people in power are neglecting the welfare of children, how are the organizations who raise money to help vulnerable children weighing in on this international human rights disaster?

UNICEF USA quickly took to Twitter when the story broke open with MSBNC’s All in With Chris Hayes on May 30. UNICEF defines itself on Twitter by saying, “We support and advocate for UNICEF in the United States. UNICEF fights for the survival and development of all children, in all situations, all of the time.”

The charity has released a statement and has regularly tweeted about it since.

“Separation from family leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, no matter what the care setting. And traumatic separation creates toxic stress in children and adolescents that can profoundly impact their development and increase the risk of stress-related disease well into adulthood,” the statement partly read.

There was no sign of the issue having shown up Save the Children’s radar, but when they were contacted on June 5, they responded quickly with a statement from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children.

“We strongly urge the United States government to prevent the separation of young children from their parents whenever possible and to limit the duration of any such separation when it occurs.

“Separating a child from his or her family unnecessarily is inhumane, traumatic and simply put, unacceptable. Separation may cause severe negative social and emotional consequences for the children and their families in the days, months and years ahead.” (Save the Children)

Save the Children’s Twitter bio describes their work. “We invest in childhood–every day, in times of crisis & for our future. We give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn & protection from harm.”

Save the Children promises to “closely monitor this situation and advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable children.”

On June 1, Save the Children released their End of Childhood 2018 Report, it found that the U.S. ranks 36th, one step behind Belarus and one pace ahead of Russia, on Save the Children’s 2018 child welfare Index.

The report goes on to say that “a shocking 14.1 million children in the U.S. are growing up in poverty. And while most Americans think child poverty is only an urban issue, child poverty rates are higher in rural areas. Nearly 1 in 4 rural children grow up in poverty.”

In addition to charity activities, UNICEF and Save the Children consider it their job to advocate on behalf of vulnerable children, a stance many charities believe is “not our job.”

We’re not sure where charity behemoth World Vision is standing on the activities along the southern border because it has not tweeted once about it or issued any kind of statement or said why it won’t respond to questions about issuing a statement.

World Vision defines itself on Twitter as “Going where no one else goes because Jesus is alive in the hardest places to be a child.”

“Jesus is alive in the hardest places to be a child.”

If you follow that belief, that would be a good thing because, but he’d be quite without the company or thoughts of World Vision along the southern border of the U.S.

The question is what in the H-E-Two Sticks is World Vision advocating for right now? (Possibly fodder for another column.)

Although some charities refrain from any hint of advocacy as they feed and cloth one starving child after another, World Vision is not one of those charities. They provide instructions for their supporters on how to advocate. Check out a recent blog, Adventures In Advocacy: How To Steward Our Influence.

Up to this point, the children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S. border are not on the World Vision USA radar.

And I’m not one to bring Jesus into things without being asked, and I am definitely someone who strongly believes religion should be firmly separated from publicly- funded institutions, but if you lead with a theological bent, as World Vision does, then let’s have that discussion. So let me respond with some scripture.

In the New Testament, Matthew 25 speaks of the Final Judgment, when the righteous will be granted paradise and unrepentant sinners will be consigned to eternal fire. Christ says to those at his right hand that they are “blessed” because:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

But the people he’s talking to look at each other, not really remembering helping anyone of Jesus’ description. They kind of go “Duh? Us? and say,

“When did we see you, a stranger, and welcome you?”

Christ replies,

“‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,

you did it to me.’”

For a country that aggressively projects evangelical “Christian” values and allows public policy to be imbued with those values, the question it beggars is what books have they been reading lately.

As someone who has spent their entire professional life working in the charity sector, I am pleased proud (and relieved) that UNICEF USA and Save the Children USA are speaking out on behalf of all the world’s children.

For charities who are in a position to influence and yet who cannot avoid the hypocrisy of staying silent while believing—and fundraising from—the moral high ground they say they occupy, my thoughts run to a different sentiment.


Epilogue: World Vision did, eventually, issued a short statement about Trump administration’s policy of separating parents and children at the border.  On June 15th, they said:

“As a child-focused Christian organization, World Vision believes that God intended that children be cared for and protected in a family environment, and urges the U.S. Government to find family centered and child-focused solutions to immigration detention.”

Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins started a Twitter thread to track all statement by religious groups opposing the Trump Administration policy. It is worth noting how late World Vision was to this party. Why in heavens name would that be?



Sandy Tam Photography-Gail01Gail Picco is an award-winning charity strategist widely recognized as one of Canada’s foremost experts on how to carve a path through the increasingly complex dynamics of the charitable sector. Civil Sector Press published her latest book, Cap in Hand: How Charities are Failing the People of Canada and the World, in 2017.

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