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Children Are Being Separated From Mothers. Here’s What Your Family Can Do About It.

Calls to Action

Last year, President Trump officially put an end to family separation at US borders. So why are kids still being removed from their parents’ arms?

As of July 30th, 900 children have been separated from their families in 2019, according to the New York Times.

While camps are closing or reducing bed counts all over the country, it’s important to remember that the fight isn’t over for those children who remain in custody.

As a mother myself, I refuse to abandon my Latinx counterparts who are mourning the forced separation of their own children at US borders. I often see posts pop up on parenting groups asking how to discuss the issue with small children. How can we, as united families, help those without the same privilege?

In our house, we’ve decided to tackle the issue head on when it comes to discussing what is happening and what can be done about it. And we always involve our four year old son in the conversation.

Here are some things we’ve learned throughout the process:

Discuss what’s happening

 Discussing current events with small children can be overwhelming. I find that simplifying the problem to the basic facts and then asking my son how he feels about those facts is a great way to start. After all, we often don’t give children the credit they deserve when it comes to understanding complex issues.

Here’s an example of how I might start the conversation, “lately a lot of families have been trying to move to the United States. When they arrive, there are people, similar to police, that are at the border. Sometimes those people separate the parents into one room and the kids in another. Then they have to stay in those separate rooms for a long time. What do you think about that?”

By using an open ended question it allows the child to formulate their own thoughts. From there, I ask more questions. “Why do you think that’s sad?” “Do you know why people come to the United States from other countries?” “What do you think we should do about it?”

Throughout the conversation, you’ll be able to share more information about the problem until your little one can understand what’s happening and why. Remember, if he or she comes up with different conclusions than you, that’s ok! The important part is starting the conversation.

I try to always end with, “how can we help?” That way my child feels optimistic about the topic rather than being left with negative feelings.

Contact your representatives

 What can you do if your little one is too small to write a letter to your elected officials? Here are two solutions: draw a picture or make a call.

The first thing you’ll need to do is find your representatives, which you can do by entering your address into the Common Cause website (this is also a great time to check to see if your little one knows his/her address).

Using Common Cause to find your representatives.

 Ask your little one to draw a picture describing how they feel about the issue. For example, my son drew a picture of a person unlocking a jail cell with a bunch of kids in it. Under it I wrote a description of the image and intent, “My son, [include name and age], believes that every child should be able to stay with his or her parents if detained. Here’s a picture showing the release of children from detention centers that he made especially for you in hopes that you’ll support the continued closure of detention centers and the end of family separations.”

The other option is to make a phone call. Keep your eye on the ACLU news section. Whenever an issue is up for debate that impacts immigrant rights, use it as an opportunity to call your local representatives.

Before calling, discuss the bill or issue with your child. Explain how local and state officials can vote for, or against, important legislation. Then, call your representative on speakerphone and leave a joint message. Encourage your child to say at least one prepared sentence during the call, even if you have to do most of the talking.

Donate or support businesses that do

 If your children get an allowance, this is an easy one. When discussing how to help families separated at the borders, remind them about donations.

Organizations including RAICES and NIJC provide legal services to children detained at U.S. borders. Read the “about” section on each organizations’ website aloud to your children, and ask which one they’d like to donate to. Remember, it’s important to involve children in the thought process - why do they want to donate to their selected organization?

If your children don’t have money of their own yet, make your next family related purchase from an organization or business that supports immigration rights -- and make sure to talk about it!

For example, I recently published a book, Nikki Durant and the Terrible Can’t, and we donate all profits from our book directly to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). This is a great time to introduce the concept of “buying power” by discussing how people can choose which businesses to support. By buying a book that donates profits to KIND, your family will be supporting an organization that helps reunite families and you’ll be getting a fun, new story to read. By buying a book from another source, you’ve spent the same amount of money, but all you have is a book.

Choose what books and products you purchase based on which companies donate a percentage of profits.

 By doing these things, children will learn to think about how they can have an impact on the world, no matter how small they are.

Nikki Yeager is a New York based writer and children's book illustrator currently living in Thailand. Between projects she finds time to start businesses and consult for entrepreneurs around the world.

 All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.