According to the US Census Bureau, only 68% of children live in households with two parents, a figure that has been steadily decreasing over the past few decades1. The separation of parents and the lack of two-parent households occurs for a multitude of different reasons, and there are some cases in which it is better for the health and development of a child to live with a single parent. However, multiple independent studies have shown that generally, children have more health problems with only one parent in the household. One study2 that included 17,000+ preschool-age children showed that one parent homes had:
- Increased risk regarding parent-reported poor health status [boys: odds ratio (OR) 1.39 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.06-1.82), girls: 1.73 (1.28-2.33)]
- Psychological problems [boys: 1.90 (1.38-2.61), girls: 1.58 (1.03-2.42)]
- Overweight [boys: OR 1.23 (1.01-1.50)}
- Asthma [only girls: OR 1.90 (1.15-3.15)]
Many of the above trends also hold true for refugee children displaced to countries without their parents. This is unsurprising, given the data above showing that removing one parent from the household already shows decreases in child health. The removal of both parents, in addition to the violence/trauma surrounding the move to a new home, would naturally be expected to prove problematic on the health and well-being of these children. A review3 of roughly 50 studies and 5,000+ children living in the USA and other high-income countries found that many of these children (especially those of adolescent age, those with mental health disorders or those experiencing trauma around the parent’s removal) experienced higher than average rates of PTSD, anxiety, depression and general health problems with inconsistent improvement over time.
While the factors surrounding the decline in two-parent households are very complex, the current refugee situation within the United States offers a clearer path of way to make an immediate difference. As many well know by now, 2,000+ children4 have been removed from their homes and many of their parents deported to Mexico or other countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many of these children are toddlers or have mental/medical disorders (such as down syndrome, or those requiring complex medical care) that will add further difficulty and traumatization to the removal from their households.
Regardless of personal views on immigration legality and procedure, there is a substantial amount of data that supports the notion that children have better outcomes when they are with their families. This begs the question, what is the best way to help keep these children from being separated?
One of the easiest ways to get involved is to follow legislation that is currently in progress to help keep these families together. Following this legislation, keeping an eye out for events at a local level and contacting state representatives can all assist with this cause beyond what any one individual can do alone. There is a lot of legislature currently in progress surrounding this issue:
- 3263: Humane Treatment of Migrant Children Act (July 25 2018) https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s3263/text
- Res. 982: Of inquiry requesting the President, and directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to transmit, respectively, certain information to the House of Representatives referring to the separation of children from their parents or guardians as a result of the President’s “zero tolerance” policy (July 18 2018) https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hres982/text
- R. 6232: Preventing Family Separation for Immigrants with Disabilities Act (June 26 2018) – https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr6232
- R. 6180: Mental Health Care for Children Inhumanely Separated from Parents by the Federal Government Act of 2018 (June 21 2018) https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr6180
- R. 6135: Keep Families Together (June 19 2018) https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr6135/summary
Across the board, children have better outcomes when their parents are around and able to provide both the financial and emotional support that children need to thrive and survive. While it is difficult to affect family divorce/separation rates, what we currently can do is advocate for the children being pulled away from their families in light of recent deportations. This can be done via legislation that is currently on the floor aiming to prevent dissolution and protect these children and these families. Immigration beliefs aside, these children deserve better than what they’re currently receiving, and it’s important to prioritize keeping these families together.
Taylor Valadie, MD
1) US Census Bureau (November 2017) Families and Households https://www.census.gov/topics/families/families-and-households.html
2) Scharte M1, Bolte G; GME Study Group (2013) Increased health risks of children with single mothers: the impact of socio-economic and environmental factors. Eur J Public Health. 2013 Jun;23(3):469-75
3) Fazel, Mina. Reed, Ruth V. Panter-Brick, Catherine. Stein, Alan. (2011) Mental health of displaced and refugee children resettled in high-income countries: risk and protective factors. Lancet 2012; 379: 266–82 http://www.evidenceaid.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/1-s2.0-S0140673611600512-main.pdf
4) de Córdoba, Jose. Perez, Santiago (June 19 2018) Mexico Criticizes U.S. Over Policy Removing Immigrant Children From Parents. https://www.wsj.com/articles/mexico-rebukes-u-s-over-policy-removing-immigrant-children-from-parents-1529432369