Support, Not Separation

This post was written on June 23, 2018.


In today’s Winnipeg Free Press, Niigaan Sinclair wrote a poignant article titled, “Canada no stranger to taking children from families.” You can find the link to the article here:


I appreciate Mr. Sinclair’s affirmation of the world’s outrage over the current U.S. practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border, and holding them in cages. He highlights that world pressure caused President Trump to agree to stop this practice, and Mr. Sinclair also pointed out that Trump’s policy change continues to have many gaps.

The point of Mr. Sinclair’s article is that the fact that Canada’s child welfare system has a disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care is a way that Canada is continuing to separate Indigenous children from their families.

Canadians are learning more about our heritage and the ways that colonists harmed Indigenous people and cultures. My son was taught about residential schools and learned about the 7 Teachings in his public school. I think this has become common in many parts of Manitoba. My son’s school also offers smudges before school. All of this is so, so important. But we cannot forget that many Indigenous individuals continue to live on a different playing ground due to the effects of all this trauma, and the effects of some current policies and practicies.

The child welfare system is a part of this. This is tragic for Manitoba children. And when something is tragic for children, then it is always tragic for the future of the country.

The child welfare system has a very important role to play in protecting children from unsafe situations. Sometimes this rightly means separating children from caregivers who are not meeting the needs of their children. However, there are other situations when children are removed from a home, when what was really needed was more support and education for a family. A family who could have thrived with the right support.

So what can we do? Wherever you are, whoever you are, one thing you can do is support any and all programs and policies and laws that focus on prevention. This means programs that focus on giving families and parents the support that they need to be the best parents they can be to their kids.

In my professional life, I am so grateful to be part of programs that support families. In some cases, these programs keep families together.  These programs help families support their children in the way we all want to as parents.

When you vote, consider political views that support programs that focus on prevention, and offering support to individuals and families. This makes all of us healthier and stronger.

When you donate money, consider organizations that support programming for community and family growth. United Way is a great example. You can donate to United Way here:

There are also many, many other not-for-profit organizations to donate to. Consider the #aHand2Hold campaign that is working against children from Nunavut being separated from their parents on medical flights to tertiary-care pediatric facilities in urban settings for critical treatment on Challenger air-ambulance planes, under the responsibility of Évacuations aéromédicales du Québec, or ÉVAQ.

But who cares, anyway? Why be so passionate about this? I’ll tell you.

All the incredible brain development that happens through healthy attachment relationships depends on the presence and care of trusted adults. Children are buffered from the effects of traumas when their caregivers are present. In fact, a child can live through a trauma, and not be very affected by it if they continued to feel safe in the care of their caregiver. Likewise, a child can be traumatized by a situation that is actually fairly safe if they do not feel safe. When we traumatically separate children from their caregivers, without preparation, without proper explanations, without bringing them to other people who know and care about them, then what happens is that their little bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Their evolutionary autonomic response system tells them that their very existence depends on being in close proximity to their attachment figures. Their stress system is heightened, which means their ability to learn goes down (they are focused on survival), and their immune system takes a dip. Unresolved, this leads to long-term health, attention, and impulse-control problems. That’s a big deal. That means that these children’s healthy development is at risk, which puts them steps back in their chances of success in the world. That’s not fair. That’s not just.

Check out this well-written article in the Washington Post by James A. Coan for more details on how this affects children:

So…here I am, in my safe home, in my relatively safe city, in one of the safest countries in the world. My children are safe. I had the privilege of holding each of them on my belly moments after they were born, breastfeeding each of them daily until they were close to 3-years-old, staying with them each night until they fall asleep, and experiencing pediatric medical care, child care systems and a school system that has all been incredibly supportive of my relationship with my children. I am able to advocate for my children when necessary, and I am listened to. I am grateful.

How do I respond to these world atrocities that affect other children so unfairly? How do I make sense of the fact that I am not experiencing this inequality in my own life? I respond through my work, through my monetary donations (regardless of how small!), through voting, through conversations with friends and family.

I also respond by what I share with my children. At their ages of 3 and 7, this so often leads to teaching them the basic belief that every person is just as important as every other person. I spoke more about this in my recent post, “Tragedies”.

Know that your voice makes a difference. Let me know what you do to promote justice and to promote the idea that people who are in difficult circumstances need support (not punishment). Let’s share our stories!

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