Chapin Hall statement on the Separation of Immigrant Families

This statement is in response to the recent U.S. government practice of forcibly separating parents and children who arrive at U.S. borders

For more than three decades, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago has conducted research and analysis about children and families in distress and the systems that serve them. Through the course of this work, we have documented the damaging effects of family separation–even when temporary, and even when necessitated by abuse or neglect.

We know that disruption of child attachments is damaging. And we know that remediating the effects of such separation is formidable. That is why we in the field of child welfare work to keep families intact while providing supports they need to use their strengths and address their challenges. And we work to prevent the conditions that contribute to families not having the resources they need to care for and nurture their children.

In the case of immigrant families fleeing violence or other threatening conditions, our goals should be to: promote their resilience and strength; protect their children; offer opportunities to heal from previous trauma; and support them in staying together despite difficult circumstances.

The costs of failing to heed the evidence on trauma, attachment, and family separation will be exceedingly high. Exposure to traumatic stress without the buffering presence of a parent has deleterious effects on the developing brain and body systems. Preserving intact families seeking asylum could benefit these families and the communities where they live for generations to come.

The evidence on family stability is clear, and it is neither political nor partisan. This evidence should guide public policy and practice with all children who–for any reason–come under the care of public jurisdictions.

For a current compilation on research on the impact of separating families, see The Science is Clear: Separating families has long-term damaging psychological and health consequences for children, families and communities, published on June 20, 2018 by the Society for Research in Child Development.