The recent article in The Atlantic on the health effects of deportation threats on children — which the American Pediatric Association describes as ‘toxic stress’ — reflects what Mary’s Center is currently witnessing in our School-Based Mental Health Program* which serves over 800 children and adolescents in 14 schools in the Nation’s Capital.
Our presence in schools and collaboration with teachers, counselors and administrators enables us to see themes in the school community. It has been heartbreaking to hear expressions like:
“Am I safe at school? And can they come and pick me up?” (Referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE)
“Are they going to deport my mom back to Mexico? Who will I stay with when she goes?”
“What if I get sent back to El Salvador? Am I going to end up being killed just like my two uncles?”
These questions are from children as young as seven who are feeling hopeless, depressed and fearful about the potential deportation of their parents as a result of recent events.
Unfortunately the changing political climate is putting an unprecedented burden on the vulnerable children Mary’s Center serves, children who already struggle with a myriad of challenges, including eating disorders, attention deficit disorder, depression and constant fear of being homeless. This added layer of “toxic stress” forces our staff to redirect their intervention to address the additional fears that often times paralyzes an entire family.
Equally concerning is the fact that educators and school administrators – some of whom are immigrants themselves – are experiencing the same level of anxiety, magnifying the stress that children are going through.
Since we opened our doors in 1988, our model has focused on helping families achieve good health, access educational opportunities and move up the economic ladder. Actions to deport the law-abiding families we serve will hamper long-term success, affecting the wellbeing and academic performance of the next generation while exacerbating existing health, education and economic disparities. We urge the President to please reconsider his recent Orders and to give every child a fair chance to achieve the American Dream. Every day we see what these children can become; they run our front desk, they are managers throughout our different programs and they are our doctors, teachers and therapists, giving back to the community. We invite you to celebrate their accomplishments and support the next generation to do the same.
*Mary’s Center’s School-Based Mental Health Program partners with 14 schools in DC’s Ward 1 and 4. Our Therapists provide diagnostic and assessment services, individual, group, and family therapy, and referrals to psychiatry and other community services. They also support teachers, parents and school culture to ensure that all children can realize their full potential.