The recent national debate over separating children from their parents at our borders should serve to remind all of us how devastating it can be when children are separated from their parents. According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents during six weeks in April and May.

Thousands of Americans were outraged.

Regardless of how anyone feels about the immigration issue, it is undeniable that the trauma of separating children from their parents takes a horrible toll. At professionals, we know that children need to feel safe and secure to develop social, emotional, cognitive and language skills that ensure their opportunity to reach their full potential. We know that social-emotional readiness is as powerful a predictor of school performance and success in life as knowledge and academic skills. And we know that extreme trauma stunts this development and can have an impact over a person’s entire lifetime, including a negative impact on the next generations of children to come.

For those of us who are parents, it’s horrifying to imagine what it would be like not to know if our children are safe or where they have been taken. We can only imagine the fear our children would feel not to know when or if they will see us again. When I think about it, my heart sinks and I feel almost desperate to find a way to relieve what I know must be pure terror.

The situation at our southern border is making all of the headlines. However, right here in our own community, we know that children experience traumatic separation from a parent every day. Most of the time it doesn’t get headlines, but it is not less important. More than 15,500 children are in the custody of Ohio's children service agencies, a 23 percent increase over 2016, according to the latest data from the Public Children Protective Services Association of Ohio (January 11, 2018). Nearly 2,300 of those children are from Cuyahoga County. Parental incarceration, the opioid epidemic, child abuse and child neglect are a few of the leading causes.

Where is the outrage here in our community? Our state? Our nation?

Obviously, child abuse, neglect and separation negatively impact a child’s mental health. However, there are also many secondary impacts resulting from child maltreatment and separation including increased costs associated with the both adult and juvenile justice systems, child welfare and educational systems. One study cited by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggests that “child maltreatment costs the nation as much as $258 million each day, or approximately $94 billion each year.” In 2017, the Center for Disease Control estimated that the opioid epidemic has cost the United States $78 Billion. The Pew Research Center states that there is a “growing body of research that shows that having a parent behind bars can have a destabilizing effect on an estimated 1.7 million children.”

There is something that we can do to help prevent the trauma of separation trauma in our community, and that’s what our new mission at Beech Brook is all about. We need to address the needs of our community by getting closer to the root causes that lead to parental incarceration, drug abuse, child maltreatment and family dysfunction – the things that lead to children separation from their parents every single day. Through our prevention and early intervention programs, we can create better conditions where communities, families and children will thrive.

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