“Colonial states separate children from parents because they know it works. It destroys and traumatizes for generations. It’s an attack on the future as well as the present.”
In my writing, I make it a point to stay out of commenting on political stances for many reasons. However, when policy starts to cross over into human rights violations that threaten the health of future generations, as a shamanic practitioner, spiritual warrior, and fellow human being, I am compelled to speak. And this article is the result of one of those moments. When the story broke of asylum seekers from Central, North, and South America being separated from their children at the US border, I felt it important to share what I know about child development and early childhood trauma. I also want to add from the beginning that this isn’t a solely American phenomenon but a result of patriarchal beliefs and structures that our world currently operates under. This system is hurting men, women, and children all around the world and it’s time to start questioning its modus operandi.
As an educator, I’ve dedicated my adult life to the thriving of families by supporting children and parents. This looks many different ways that go beyond academics and guiding families in setting up appropriate education models for their children. The truth is, children who are living in poverty and with a substantial amount of trauma are in survival mode: no brain can take in new information when it is in constant fight of flight. Poverty is not a crime nor a result of laziness; it comes out of oppressive policies that benefit the few and marginalize many of the most vulnerable citizens. Parents who struggle financially love their children and most are good parents despite the challenges they face. Poverty is not a reason to separate children from their parents; many social services seek to provide financial aid so parents can raise their children to adulthood. Supporting families means keeping them together, providing resources to help families to thrive, and creating policies that help parents to raise their children without so much stress on the family structure. Currently, we have a worldwide economic system that places undue stress on young families and when family systems start to collapse, parents are often blamed for their “failure.” My job is to advocate for kids and families, look for that support, and put it in place to give families some breathing room while they are doing the most important job on earth: raising healthy, resilient, compassionate, and creative citizens.
Recently, an excellent documentary series came out showing how we humans develop from our earliest years and how vital the first years of life are in creating our self-concepts, attitude toward life, creativity and flexibility of mind. In “The Beginning of Life,” experts in the fields of human developmental stages, pediatric medicine, psychology, and neuroscience come together to paint a new picture for societies that show how important it is to support families and what the effects are to society at large when we don’t provide this support (i.e. increased crime rates, higher health care costs, and higher taxes). One social worker recently told me that it is much less expensive for the government to provide groceries for a family for a few months while they get back on their feet than to pull a child from a home and put them in foster care. If you don’t care for the moral or financial arguments, the science is clear: parents and kids belong together. Many people don’t like the idea of using tax payer dollars to support families, however, when we start to separate families without providing them with the support they need first (i.e. parenting classes, financial aid, job training, good daycare, time for maternal and paternal leaves), the cost to society at large tends to be much greater for all of us. I personally want my tax dollars to be spent on investing in the wellbeing of future generations instead of on policies that focus on short term financial “gains.”
I made a spiritual vow many years ago to protect children’s rights. My motto is “do no harm.” This seems impossible for us humans and yet I feel that it is a worthy vision to hold in front of me as I do this work. Many people in the world don’t realize that we have a three-decade’s old international document in place that sets out the rights of children via the United Nations called the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3 states the focus of the document: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Most folks would agree that staying with his/her parents is in the best interest of the child unless the child is being neglected or abused, which is not the case here. And even though the children who are separated from their parents are being fed, clothed, and sheltered, we know from longitudinal studies of children who grew up in Romanian orphanages that providing the basic physical needs of life is not enough for children to thrive. For children to be truly healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually), they need to be surrounded by safe and strong attachments to caregivers and community members who love and know them. When a child is taken away from a parent or guardian, this is a significant trauma that cannot be underestimated and often takes a lifelong toll on the child. If readers don’t know about the decades long Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), I highly recommend watching the TED Talk at the foot of this article. Many children and adults in our “corrections” systems have high ACES scores, not surprisingly.
You might be wondering why I am so passionate about this as a Canadian citizen with no voting rights in the USA. First, I am a child of immigrants who came to Canada looking for a better life for future generations. My family and I have been able to heal from the intergenerational trauma of growing up in a dictatorial state because of the relative safety and support we’ve experienced in Canada. Second, as a shamanic practitioner, I know that what we do today affects the seven generations ahead and the seven generations behind us. We have the chance to shift what we believe about children and their value in a way that our ancestors perhaps were not able to. Respecting the work of parents and the rights of children to explore their new world in safety is actually good for all of us because those kids will be deciding policy and taking care of us when we are elders. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a traumatized, jaded, and perhaps violent person taking care of me when I am an elder. I want to be surrounded by adults who were nurtured when they were children. These adults are more likely to be compassionate, have a strong sense of human and environmental rights, carry love in their hearts, and be active in their citizenship.
I know from researching that this practice of separating children from parents has been happening in the USA and even in Canada for quite a few years now; this is a non-partisan issue. I am not an American citizen otherwise I would be writing my local political representative. I will nevertheless look for ways to make my voice heard as an international citizen. I hope you will join me as a citizen of the world in making sure we protect the most vulnerable members of our society because the truth is that we are all connected to one another. We are all relations.
NB: Further information on the research presented in this article appears in the resources section below.
The Beginning of Life
TED Talk: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
American Civil Liberties Union
article: Family Separation: Trump’s Cruel Immigration Policy
article: Canada Aims to Avoid Detaining Migrant Children, but it Happens
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com