Children's Shelter officials: Executive order lessens trauma for detained children

Concerns remain for children separated from parents

SAN ANTONIO – President Donald Trump’s executive order ending family separations was met with some relief and lingering concern at the Children’s Shelter, which is all too familiar with traumatized children.

Although the shelter sees those who’ve suffered abuse and neglect, Diana Ochoa Johnson, its chief clinical officer, said what has happened to an estimated 2,300 children separated from their parents at the border is psychological abuse.

“There’s no question,” Johnson said. “For children, parents are their foundation for their sense of feeling safe, physically and emotionally.”

She said when they’re scared or frightened, “it’s their parents that they turn to, (to) comfort them and soothe them.”

Johnson pointed out it’s very likely the families already had experienced trauma at the hands of smugglers in their desperate attempt to flee their impoverished countries in Central America ravaged by gang violence. She also said she fears the damage that may have already been done to the children who’ve been separated since early May.

The children could suffer short- and long-term consequences, such as difficulty controlling their emotions and learning delays. Johnson said it could follow them into adulthood if they don’t get the psychological help they need.

Yvette Sanchez, the shelter’s chief program officer, said now that the executive order will end family separations, the children will be detained along with their parents.

“I think that’s still traumatic, but I think less traumatic if they’re with their caregiver, somebody they know and feel safe with," Sanchez said. “We need to make sure the facilities where we keep them have the support services they need to help keep families together."

Sanchez said several agencies contracted by the federal government to care for unaccompanied minors in the past should have those kinds of services available.

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