Broken Attachments for Children in this Immigration Nightmare

What happens when children are separated from loving caregivers?

We’ve learned a lot together through the years, and I’m pretty sure we can all agree this is a traumatic event with lifelong impact.

As an adoptive mom, and mentor to other adoptive and foster moms, I’m sadly familiar with the impact of this trauma. I live it out each day in my own family.

I never write about political issues here at One Thankful Mom, but this issue is about humanity and is dear to my heart.

Former first lady, Laura Bush, wrote in the Washington Post, “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

And this:

Recently, Colleen Kraft, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.

Everything in me rises up at these words. We know attachment is built upon a child’s needs being met (again and again and again) by a loving adult. This builds trust and a sense that the world is a safe place. It is not enough to feed and shelter these children who are suffering.

The harm caused by separating these children from their parents will be long-lasting and profound. It will affect the way the children’s brains are wired and the way they see the world.

This essay describes the lifelong impact of this trauma, Nazis separated me from my parents as a child. The trauma lasts a lifetime.


Defend the weak and the fatherless, uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Psalm 82:3


As for those of us who are followers of Christ, this is not loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is not valuing life and wanting the best for others. It is not defending the weak and vulnerable.

I recognize we may not all agree on immigration policies. We may vary widely in our political and religious beliefs. But when it comes to children, most likely you are as fierce about protecting them as I am.

My friend, Emily, a psychologist (and mom to the cutest baby), asked if I would address the forced separation of children and parents at the border of our country and Mexico. I invited her to write this guest post.

Let’s do what we can to love these children by reading Emily’s words and acting on them.

You have likely seen the news reports of the decision made by our country’s administration to intentionally use family separation (purposely separating parents and young children) as a “deterrent” to those seeking to enter the United States.

This policy is being applied even to those who follow U.S. legal processes for seeking asylum, willingly presenting themselves at ports of entry as allowed and encouraged by U.S. law.

I know immigration is often a polarizing issue, and my goal is not to start a political debate here.

This is not about immigration; this is about preventing unnecessary attachment trauma.

Most of us who read One Thankful Mom know all too well the devastation wrought by broken attachments. Forced separation from loving caregivers is a trauma with long-lasting consequences. 

Most of the families experiencing enforcement of this policy have already experienced significant violence and trauma, only increasing the likelihood of profound damage when these children are removed from their parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a formal statement calling for the end of this practice, citing the detrimental physical and mental health effects on vulnerable children. The United Nations Human Rights office has also officially denounced this policy, calling separating families as a deterrent an abuse of human rights and a child rights violation.

Whatever our political backgrounds, those of us committed to loving children from hard places must protest attachment disruption being wielded as a weapon.

You can help.

1. Call your representatives and request they oppose this practice. This is especially important for any of us living in states with Republican representatives whose voices and votes are especially needed on this issue.

2. Look up your state senators’ information here HERE. Simply look up your state and call the number listed. If you’ve never done this before, it’s really not that scary! An aide will answer or you will be directed to voicemail.

3. Simply state, “This is (your name) and I live in (zip code). I am opposed to inhumane family separation practices. I am calling to request that our senator vote in favor of the Keep Families Together Act.”

If you are not comfortable supporting this specific legislation, you can instead state, “I am calling to request our senator vote against family separation.”

More information on the Keep Families Together Act, which was written in consultation with child welfare experts, can be found HERE and HERE.

4. This article may be helpful and thought-provoking for people of faith trying to understanding this current situation.

With family separation at the border, asking questions is a moral obligation


We can play a part in preventing attachment trauma for vulnerable children before it happens.

Thank you for reading this and opening your heart to the issue.

Friends, the more I read, the more my heart breaks.

What are your thoughts?


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Cathy Lankenau-Weeks
    June 18, 2018

    My heart breaks too. I am so angry and devastated that these children are being used as pawns, and that some in power are even trying to use the Bible to justify their cruelty (taking verses out of context, and using the same verses that were used to support slavery and Nazism). The parallels to the Holocaust are chilling and the suffering of the children and families is heartbreaking. We have to do better. I appreciate your posting about it.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 18, 2018

      I appreciate you commenting, Cathy. Thank you.

  2. Dardi
    June 19, 2018

    Thank you for this post. It is empowering to DO something other than complain about/grieve the current situation. We need to direct our energy and words to the appropriate places. Another option is to email if calling isn’t your favorite. One of the senator recordings in my state suggested emailing. I don’t know that one is more effective than the other, but I would think a visual of a flooded inbox might also catch some attention. Or do both!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 19, 2018

      I think emailing is also effective and maybe more comfortable for some people. Thanks for mentioning it, Dardi.

  3. Emily Wynsma
    June 19, 2018

    Thank you, everyone, for reading, commenting and sharing.

    Please know that even if your senators are already signed on to the Keep Families Together Act, calling is still helpful- voice your encouragement that they do whatever they can to work with other legislators to find a solution, and encourage them to continue on with their work.

    There are also several wonderful organizations working to provide legal help and practical assistance to the families separated at the border. has info on different projects working to help, as well as a donate button which distributes the money evenly.
    Ben and I made our monthly tithe to ‘s Immigrant Child and Family Rights project this month.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 19, 2018

      Thank you for starting such an important conversation, Emily, and sharing what you know.

  4. Bill
    June 19, 2018

    Children are not being removed from those entering properly, only those crossing illegally into this country. It is not a good situation but the real responsibility belongs to the person or parent that makes the choice to enter this country with a child illegally knowing that the choice is either leave the country with your child or stay locked up without your child. These parents could have enter thru the proper gates and they would still be with their child. If I break into my neighbors house I will end up in jail without my child.

    1. Emily Wynsma
      June 21, 2018

      Hi Bill, thanks for commenting.

      In response to your comment “Children are not being removed from those entering properly, only those crossing illegally into this country.”:
      There were at least 53 (as of yesterday) documented official complaints of parents and children being separated even when following the law of how to apply for asylum. The rules (on DHS’s website) of when people can face family separation in those circumstances scream to me that they are vulnerable to being exploited (by which I mean unnecessary family separations), and nothing this admin has done suggests they wouldn’t take advantage of that.)
      I think that the fact that many of the people coming are trying to apply for asylum is very important to consider. Secretary Nielsen confirmed that people have been turned away from ports of entry even when seeking to enter legally because they’re “full” ( besides turning asylum seekers away being against international law, reports contradict that they are truly full.) It sounds like many of these people have genuinely tried to present themselves for asylum and have valid cases for it.
      While yes, it could be argued that people still shouldn’t enter illegally then, I feel that those who have tried to follow the law and been unable to do so through no fault of their own should have that taken into consideration.

      In reply to your comment “If I break into my neighbors house I will end up in jail without my child”, please se this letter from a bipartisan group of 75 former U.S. attorneys:
      “…The law does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances. Collectively, as former United States Attorneys, we have prosecuted tens of thousands of cases involving far more serious crimes than misdemeanor illegal entry offenses. And even in those far more serious cases, decisions involving the separation of children from their parents were made with extraordinary caution, and only after an evaluation of the specific circumstances of a particular case.”

      I hope this provides some clarification and food for thought. Thanks again!

  5. Michele
    June 20, 2018

    Wholeheartedly agree with you! We adoptive moms who live with children affected by trauma know how devastating this can be to children stuck in this nightmare. Thank you for speaking out for those that don’t have a voice and providing practical things we can do.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2018

      You’re welcome, Michele. It is weighing heavily on my heart.


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