Over the Line

CW: childhood trauma

Nature versus nurture? That used to be the essential question. But now we know that life events (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can change our brains, alter even the expression of our genes.

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months reading about the ACE study and others like it. As a teacher, it’s important for me to know how to help students who have experienced trauma. Those students? They are the majority of us.

The original ACE study was for a health insurance company. They wanted to know how to get costs down, what factors could contribute to better health. The vast majority of the participants were high school graduates, with over half having some college or a degree, more than the national average. About three-fourths were white. Almost half were sixty or older, giving a longitudinal view of how childhood events could affect your health.

What they found is that approximately two-thirds of participants had experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience. About a third had experienced two or more. Twelve percent had experienced four or more. Repeated studies have shown that as the number of ACEs goes up, so does the risk of a host of health and social/emotional issues, including heart disease, diabetes, teen pregnancy, risk for sexual violence, alcoholism, poor achievement in school, early death and more. These all contribute to the quality of life and genetic expression of the next generation, whose ACE score may be just as high.

My readings are weighing heavily on my mind today, as reports from the border continue to stream in. Families without visas trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and other Central American countries are stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Whether they are coming for economic reasons or seeking asylum, the current policy of the Trump administration is to separate parents and children.

For asylum seekers, the government says the entire process will take 180 days. Other sources say that with the backlog it takes 1000 days on average. Think about 1000 days for parents and children to be apart, especially infants and toddlers. If parents are deported, government sources say they have the choice of having their children go with them or leave them to make their own immigration claim. But instead, multiple parents say they have been deported without knowing where their children are. There are currently 10,000 immigrant children in care, over 2000 taken in just recently.

Let’s consider what their ACE score might be.

Have these children experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse? We have no evidence for how these children’s parents acted in their homes. However, there have been reports of children being abused by coyotes, the smugglers who brought them over, as well as abuse here while they are being detained. Asylum seekers have often experienced violence, preceding their decision to come here.

Do these kids feel valued? Again, while we can’t know what their home lives were like, being locked up with strangers does not communicate high value.

Have the detained children experienced poverty and neglect?  Families desperate enough to risk crossing the border are often poor enough for children to have experienced food scarcity, among other issues.

Have their parents separated or divorced? We can’t know, on the whole, but any parents traveling alone are separated for months or years at a time.

Did their mothers ever experience abuse? Any children traveling with their mothers have now seen their mothers threatened with guns and taken from them.

We have no information on alcoholism and drug abuse.

Has a family member experienced mental illness? Among the asylum seekers, PTSD must be common. Among the detained, mental health treatment is scarce.

Has a family member gone to prison? This question must be uppermost in the minds of kids who have been torn from their families and locked up themselves.

Were you counting? Do you see the pattern? The current U.S. policy of separating kids from their parents is adding traumatic experiences that may affect the rest of their lives, and generations to come.

If you want to do something before the next election, you can find ways to help here, here, here, here and here.

Let’s stop them before more damage is done.

*As of 6-20-18, Trump signed an order to have the families detained together. Long term detention of children is not legal at this point. You will note that most of the traumas noted above still exist. For additional concerns about the policy, see here.


13 thoughts on “Over the Line

  1. This is a very important piece, Margaret. The innocence of children is such a pristine thing that any horrors that defile their impressionable minds are tragic to even read about. The yearning for peace and unity continues…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ram. I agree. But I saw a tweet today that said the innocence was irrelevant. We need to treat people with respect no matter who they are. I’m right there with you yearning for peace and unity.


  2. You’ll know by now where my sentiments lie, it’s all too awful to even think about for more than a minute. I just want to respond to this from the point of view of essay. I liked how carefully you’ve constructed the passages. I did find it a bit dense because of the links. If I’d ignored the links, it would have been a smoother reading experience I’m sure (but you’ve put them there so we click on them!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My general principle on links is that I read through ignoring them at first to see if the essay stands on its own, and then go chase them in places where I’m still curious. But I’m an absolute sucker for a footnote (one of my favorite books will probably always be House of Leaves).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love links, especially when I’m doubting or wondering where a writer got their information. Look back after the comments, I realized I overdid them in this. But do you think I should have used footnotes? I think that might have been too distracting. Also, reminds me of term papers.


      2. I think footnotes can be super distracting in essays. Plus for our purposes… words are words. Links are cleaner. Sometimes I change my link color in my theme to be more like “this is here if you need it, but I think the essay is fine without it.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Everything you’ve said here is so true. I worked in preventative mental health for a few years, in birth-to-three programs. I remember seeing a study of toddler brains – those who had received bonding, safety, security, nurture, nutrition, etc. at birth, and those who had not. The CT and MRI scans of the brains of those children who had not received those things had large swathes of black space where brain activity was not active or growing. It was such a dramatic comparison that the images have stuck with me all these years. What happens in those formative birth-to-three years is much more vital than most people realize. What is going on now will affect all these children the rest of their lives, in ways we can’t imagine.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As usual, your passion and emotion jump off the page. I have to agree that the links were a bit distracting for me. They felt almost like subheaders and my eye kept jumping to them. You tackled a big topic here, and managed to keep it focused though, so well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve been doing a really good job lately of tangling together supported, persuasive arguments with the emotional underlays that let readers see why the facts you’re bringing them matter.

    Liked by 1 person

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