Zero Tolerance for a Cruel and Inhumane Policy of Prosecuting Parents

Publisher: ICOY Staff

Illinois state capitol building

Zero Tolerance for a Cruel and Inhumane Policy of Prosecuting Parents

More than 2,000 children forcibly removed from their parents due to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting those who enter the U.S.-Mexico border without documentation have yet to be reunited even after the president ended the policy of separating families on June 20. Reports continue to detail the deplorable conditions of adults and children being treated like animals: sleeping on floor mats, using foil sheets as blankets and being fed chips and water while waiting in cages. We have heard the cries of young children calling for their parents while a border patrol agent mocks them in a secret audio recording released by ProPublica on Monday. Fox News host Laura Ingraham erroneously referred to the child detention centers as “essentially summer camp.”

Last month, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told NPR that these “children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” Some of these children will end up in long-term foster care, a particularly harmful option for children who are being forced into a system designed to protect abused and neglected children and youth even though there is no evidence that these migrant children and youth have been abused or neglected by their parents.

Illinois Collaboration on Youth represents nearly all the community providers who serve both intact families under the supervision of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and who work with children in foster care or residential treatment. We see every day the trauma that comes when children are removed from their families, even when that family has been abusive or neglectful. This separation should only come as a last resort, and certainly never as leverage to achieve a policy goal that is otherwise unattainable.

In Illinois, DCFS partners with private child welfare providers on an intact family services program that provides case management, referrals to appropriate services, in-home counseling and support designed to prevent children and youth from entering the foster care system. Removing a child from their parents is painful and traumatic even in cases where there is a finding of abuse or neglect. Foster care is an option for a child when all other options are exhausted and it is deemed necessary for keeping that child safe. Once a child enters the foster care system, the goal remains to reunite the child with their birth family.

It is completely unnecessary and extremely traumatic to rip these migrant children from their parents who have made the difficult decision to flee their homelands and escape persecution and violence. The trauma they experience will shape their behavioral, psychological, social, intellectual and emotional development. The Trump administration appears to ignore recommendations from child welfare experts to minimize the trauma inflicted by family separation. Parent-child visits and input from parents on food preferences and bedtime routines are some ways to raise the standards of care in the child detention centers to that of our child welfare system. Helping these children and youth heal and recover from what could be irreversible damage will be a steep climb. Do we have the appropriate trauma-informed and culturally responsive resources to address each unique situation? Do we have enough counselors and providers to support these children who might only speak Spanish? We have a responsibility to these children and youth who are being torn from their parents, just like we have a responsibility to all our children and youth in DCFS care. They all deserve to have every opportunity to be healthy and to succeed.

Last month, the president recognized National Foster Care Month and touted the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act. “In February, I signed into law the Family First Prevention Services Act, a law that aims to keep children at home and out of foster care by allowing States to use matching funds from the Federal Government for substance abuse prevention and treatment, mental health services, family counseling, and parenting-skills training,” Trump said in a statement. Congress and the president should not ignore this aim to keep families together, especially those in the most desperate and challenging circumstances.

Category Topic: