The Health Effects of Child SeparationKatherine Phillips | College of Nursing Aug 8, 2018
Immigration has become a largely debated topic as of late, especially that of child separation within migrant families. As children are detained in camps and parents are left behind, the effects of family separation have taken a toll on children’s health.
CU Nursing professor Kate Coleman-Minahan, PhD, RN, FNP-BC recently studied the health effects of family separation among adolescent women and their fathers. In her study, she found that adolescent women who are separated from their fathers have higher rates of teen pregnancy and STDs, among other health problems such as mental illness.
Though new policy allows children to reunite with their families, the long-term health effects of family separation are often overlooked.
Coleman-Minahan’s research provides insight into the long-term health effects of the separation of adolescent women and their fathers, and she explains why child separation remains an issue despite efforts to implement new policy.
1. Why is this study important?
This study is important for a few reasons. First, there is little research on the role of fathers and adolescent sexual and reproductive health. The participants who described more negative father-daughter relationships described their fathers working very long hours in low-wage labor suggesting economic exploitation of immigrant fathers may reduce the amount of time and energy they can spend with their children. Second, we found that having a positive relationship with a father was associated with a delay in sexual initiation and being separated from a father was associated with earlier sexual initiation demonstrating the importance of the presence of fathers and positive father-daughter relationships.
2. Doesn’t parental separation affect all girls and female adolescents?
We know from prior research that separation of fathers and children through death or divorce is associated with potentially negative outcomes on adolescent health and well-being. However, when non-resident fathers maintain close, positive relationships with their children, there are less negative outcomes. Parental separation among immigrant families may be more profound than among non-immigrant families because it is much more difficult to maintain a close father-child relationship when they are separated across a border and cannot see each other. Family separation through detainment or deportation is also unexpected and not a choice, the way separation or divorce of non-immigrant parents may be.
3. Why is separation of Mexican-immigrant fathers and daughters so impactful?
Our results suggest that positive attributes of father-daughter relationships described by our participants may help adolescents make healthy sexual and reproductive health decisions. Fathers sacrificed for their families by working long, hard hours, encouraged their daughters’ academic success and helped with schoolwork, and provided emotional support and love. When these positive relationships are suddenly ripped away, adolescents may suffer emotionally and making healthy decisions may be more challenging. Additionally, removing a father, who is often the breadwinner from the family, often makes families poorer. Mothers may have difficulty financially supporting children, which is associated with poorer adolescent health and well-being or mothers may remarry out of financial need even if it is not a positive relationship, as a few of our participants experienced.
Separation of children from their parents is associated with negative outcomes for child and adolescent health including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other physical and emotional health consequences, particularly when it is forced or unexpected. The American Academy of Pediatrics condemns the policy of separating families and children due to potentially long-term emotional and physical harm to children and adolescents.