A Letter from Dean David Chard: On the Separation of Children from Immigrant Families

Dear Members of the BU Wheelock College Community,

As we have learned through the media, our government has for several months enacted a policy of separating children from families who have brought them across our borders. Many human service professionals, researchers, and prominent public figures have decried this policy, and the voices and actions of protest against it seem, recently, to have encouraged at least a partial recanting. But, the separations persist.

These facts challenge the most fundamental elements of our community’s shared identity and values. As educators, counselors, scholars, and professionals who have dedicated ourselves to supporting children and families, it is critically important that we acknowledge this policy and its enactment as immoral, as contradictory to the evidence we have about positive development in children, and as negatively consequential for the children and families affected.

Early childhood experts know and research confirms that attachment and consistent attention from a familiar caregiver promotes children’s long-term well-being. Under the challenging conditions associated with immigration, a process full of uncertainty and fear, families feel very vulnerable and children often experience toxic stress (Yoshikawa, 2012). It is essential that children under such conditions feel the support of their families.

In a recent statement about the impact of systematically separating children from their families, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development, and Director, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, noted:

“Sudden, forcible separation of children from their parents is traumatic for both, and triggers a severe, biological stress response in the child, which stays triggered until that familiar caregiver returns. And it removes the most important resource a child can have to buffer the effects of toxic stress—a responsive adult who’s known to that child. Each day we fail to return them to their parents, we compound the harm.”

Dr. Shonkoff’s statement has been confirmed by the American Pediatric Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association.

At times like these, when we are witness to human rights violations against children and their families, we must reaffirm our capacity to help stop it. It is our responsibility as teachers, counselors, and researchers to advocate for evidence-based practices that promote the positive growth and development of children and the well-being of their families. And, to advocate effectively, we must continue to educate ourselves. Below you will find some resources that will update and inform you about the impact of toxic stress:

I encourage you to reach out to your legislative representatives and to the White House to apply pressure to put an end to separating children from their families who are attempting to enter the U.S. under any circumstances. You can access your federal legislators contact information here:

Beyond advocacy, you may want to consider taking additional action to support the already affected families. You’ll find organizations you can support at the following links:

Our home city of Boston is a city of immigrants, and much of our work as a college—beginning with Lucy Wheelock in the late 1800s and continuing through today—is dedicated to supporting immigrant communities. We recognize the humanity of these children and families, and the risk that this policy’s continuation in any form does run. We must continue to speak up and take action, and I hope that the resources in this letter can help you do so.



David J. Chard, Ph.D.
Dean ad Interim

Reference: Yoshikawa, H. (2012). Immigrants raising citizens: Undocumented parents and their young children. Russell Sage Foundation: New York.