What Story Will We Tell?


[Image Description: Gray background, Blue text. In all caps, it reads, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”]

CN: Migrant children in detention, Childhood Neglect

This is a difficult thing to name, but it’s important to call this to our minds and our action:

So often, when children experience neglect —

the absence of adult attention and mirroring, emotional safety and support, food, water, shelter, medical care, language development, learning, affection, hygiene, and other essential human and developmental needs —

they find ways to blame themselves.

Neglected children concoct stories, weaving together a host of “causes and effects” that aren’t linear or actually true, but these narratives are internalized and deeply believed. Sometimes, these blame narratives emerge directly from the words of adults, but they also emerge as a survival strategy.

After all, if the mistreatment your fault, if it’s something you’re doing, something you’re failing to do, or something just “bad” about who you are… there might be chances to change this. If you can figure out just what it is… if you can determine what is so guilty or shameful about you… you might be able to fix this. The mistreatment, which seems to be deserved, might be temporary.

Alongside all the physical dangers of neglect, this survival strategy comes at a great cost. Guilt and shame are internalized at the deepest levels. But this survival strategy also shields from the intolerable: Children cannot bear to believe they are trapped indefinitely among adults who will not care for them or who are thoroughly unsafe, even if that is the true story.

This week, we have heard troubling testimonies about migrant children as young as 7 and 8 years old who were made to be responsible for the care of toddlers in detention. Children cannot parent children. In addition to compounding physical neglect, this sets up scenarios for children to feel guilty. They do not have the capacity to meet the physical and emotional needs of younger, distressed children — children who are separated from the parents who could actually care for them.

So what is the true story here? And what story are we going to tell them?

What story will actually reach these children? Actually liberate their conditions and change their reality? What actions will remove the separation and the neglect?

We also should not bear a reality where children are trapped indefinitely among adults who will not care for them or who are thoroughly unsafe. We must change that story.

Renee Roederer

Four stories with testimonies:

“There is a Stench:” Soiled Clothes and No Baths for Migrant Children at a Texas Center
Children Cannot Parent Other Children
Trump Administration Argues It’s Not Required to Provide Soap, Toothbrushes to Detained Children
60,000 Child Migrants Detained By US in 40 Days

Three places where we might consider giving our money, time, or presence:

Spirit Accompanying: Support Accompaniment in Agua Prieta
Al Otro Lado

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