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Letter: PATH ND opposes separating children and parents at the border

As an organization that works to strengthen North Dakota families and build permanency and stability for all children through residential, psychiatric, foster care and specialized community and family services, PATH North Dakota cannot stand silently by as the United States government condones a policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

In 25 years of working with children, we have seen the effects of trauma and its lasting impact on their mental, emotional, behavioral, social and physical development. These are scars that can never be erased.

Trauma changes the brain's development and can ultimately lead to behaviors such as difficulty concentrating and learning in school, aggression, cognitive difficulties, an inability to regulate emotions and a greater possibility of dysfunction as adults. It can create physical effects such as hyperactivity, chronic pain, a shutting down of all body sensation, extreme anxiety or a feeling of separating from the physical body. Later in life, trauma is more likely to lead to risky behaviors, medical problems, substance abuse or trouble forming close relationships.

Forcefully removing a child from their parents — in a new land, after many days, weeks or months of harrowing travel — and putting them in a cell or an unfamiliar home has all the markings of a chronic traumatic experience.

Knowing what we know about the long-term effects of such mental and emotional abuse and neglect, how can the U.S., as the leader of the free world, condone this practice?

PATH North Dakota firmly stands with other social service organizations who oppose this practice. We affirm the statement on Family Separation Policy and Services, written by the Family Focused Treatment Association, of which our organization is a member. The full statement is provided below. We must stand together for children and families — no matter their country of origin. And we must stand together against a government policy that works to separate children from their families — especially if that government is our own.

The United States is still a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is our duty as citizens to tell our leaders that this is not okay. Add your voice to ours.

Families must be reunited now! Then we must work to help them heal from the trauma we have caused. Anything less is not acceptable.

McKenzie, executive director of PATH ND, submitted this letter with the support of the organization’s board of directors.