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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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3 Separation from family

In many countries, it is generally accepted that children should be with their parents and family. However, this separation can be by choice, and that is fundamentally different to a forced separation. For example, in a range of countries, including families in the UK that send their children to boarding schools at a young age, long separations from their families are not always seen as problematic. Looking back to Irja’s story in Session 1, it is evident that her ability to cope with being displaced and all the uncertainties that war brings was partly because she remained with her family.

This is a cartoon of children behind a fence topped with barbed wire.
Figure 10 Children separated from their families

Many people continue to be displaced because of war or economic uncertainty. Large numbers of people from countries in Central and South America attempt to cross the border into the USA seeking a better life. However, US immigration policy is not currently working in a child-friendly way; in fact, the policy is violating children’s rights. But it is not just the US that is ‘managing’ their ‘border crises’ in this manner. European countries are also managing this badly, and the Australian government frequently detains child refugees for prolonged prison-like conditions in smaller Pacific nations, in particular Nauru. There have been many news reports about children who are being separated from their parents, and in the next activity you will look at one.

Activity 5 Migrant children separated from their parents

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

The following news item reports on how young children from Guatemala and El Salvador have been kept in cages and separated from their parents. Click the link below then scroll down to watch the second video: ‘The sound of migrant children separated from parents’. Unsurprisingly, the content is very disturbing, and the video of the separated children is extremely upsetting.

You can find the video at the following link: The sound of migrant children separated from parents [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

As you watch the video, think about the possible consequences of the children being separated from their parents.

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It is very likely that you found it difficult to watch the video and to realise that children are being treated in ways that are likely to affect their mental health. It is especially hard when we know so much about what contributes to good wellbeing in children and that the impacts of this mistreatment are likely to have a long-term impact. The emotional response of forced prolonged separation from their families can contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, around the world, young children are experiencing a range of different traumas that can have a huge impact on their mental health.

The content of this session has included some examples of different childhoods around the world and how the context of children’s lives can impact on their mental health and wellbeing. There is a great deal of work being done around the world to help alleviate the factors that can negatively affect children. Some examples of such work are included in the ‘Further reading’ section at the end of the session.