KU News Service

Separation of children from parents shown to have lifelong, detrimental effects, KU child welfare experts say

Tue, 06/19/2018

LAWRENCE — The Trump administration has shown no signs of stopping or changing its policy on separating children from families at the country’s southern border when families are accused of entering the country illegally. Criticism has been growing from Republicans and Democrats alike about the practice, while the administration has defended its decisions.

Among debate about the conditions of facilities that more than 2,000 children have been placed in, University of Kansas social welfare professors and child services experts are available to comment on the situation. Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare, and Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, associate professor of social welfare, can discuss the policy, child welfare, child detainment, foster care, children of immigrant families in the United States and related topics. Research has shown that traumatic experiences early in childhood, such as separation from parents, can have lifelong detrimental effects on children.

“The zero-tolerance policy is a cruel and immoral human rights violation that uses children as pawns in the larger U.S. immigration debate,” Johnson-Motoyama said. “A large body of research demonstrates the deleterious cognitive and biological impacts that such trauma has on separated children in both the short and long term. The Trump administration has now heard about this research yet continues to engage in these crimes against humanity. These abhorrent practices of separating children from their parents indefinitely and placing them in abysmal conditions must end now. Separated children need to be reunified with their parents immediately to stop further suffering and damage.”

Johnson-Motoyama and Lieberman have both conducted research in child welfare. The former has conducted work in immigration and child welfare, community-based approaches to child maltreatment prevention, Latino populations in child services and related areas, while Lieberman has studied foster care, child welfare staffing, education in child welfare services and related topics.

“A foundational part of our research focuses on the how best to intervene with children with ACES, or adverse child experiences,” Lieberman said. “We know that these kinds of adverse childhood experiences literally change a child’s brain, changes the chemistry of the brain and the way it transmits messages around fight-or-flight and that kids who have been subjected to this kind of trauma will find themselves in a perpetual state of flight, which will trouble them the rest of their lives. There is a real, serious lifelong impact as a result of this kind of traumatic experience.”

To schedule an interview, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or

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