June 18, 2018
Dear UMSSW Community,
The outrage about the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the US border is gathering national, even bi-partisan, and international support. We at the University of Maryland School of Social Work are in agreement with this outrage and join together to repudiate this harmful and inhumane practice. These dire new procedures are creating a range of extraordinarily detrimental consequences for the children of immigrants and refugees traumatized by forced removal from their parents. These uncalled for and unacceptable harms must stop.
We, our alumni, students, and colleagues have long been involved as social workers on international fronts—often to determine the least traumatizing way to address the needs of children and their families as they seek asylum or refuge and negotiate the vagaries of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the enforcement of our national immigration policy. We will continue to bring our expertise and commitment to this work.
As a child welfare scholar, I know that avoiding the enduring and often lifelong health and mental health consequences of traumatic parent-child separation has been a tall and wide pillar of our work—whether domestically or internationally. Indeed, much of our research, practice, and teaching has been to minimize trauma for parents and children. Family separation practices should be reversed immediately to avoid further trauma to hundreds, and potentially thousands, of innocent children and their families.
It is not abundantly clear how we can help with this crisis but the march of demonstrators to a Tornillo, Texas tent city housing separated immigrant children on Father’s Day is an example of the importance of bringing attention to what is going on in Texas and reporting this out so the nation understands the harms being perpetrated.
As social workers, we know that family separation should only be a practice of last-resort and one that should only be exercised when the safety of the child is seriously compromised. We also know the importance for children who are separated from parents to be in touch with them and to have as many opportunities as possible to be with siblings or friends who can give them a sense of continuity and hope. We understand the harms that are arising from detaining children and locking them in warehouse-like facilities, of jailing parents and criminalizing the act of asylum seeking. It is time to speak out against the inhumane treatment of men, women, and children under the guise of protecting American borders. We must use all of our tools to confront policies that treat others as less than human, as less than worthy of the humanity we all deserve.
The National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD) of Schools of Social Work is developing a profession-wide statement that will be sent to Congress and the Executive Branch, very soon. We have also provided additional ideas about groups (like CARA, caraprobono.org) and actions that are lifting up voices against those who would continue these horrendous practices. More ideas for ways to respond are offered at Social Work Responds, www.sswresponds.info. If you have additional actionable ideas about how to resist these harmful actions please send them to me and we will see that they are posted at SSW Responds.
The National Association of Social Workers has also taken a strong stand against these separations, https://www.socialworkers.org/News/News-Releases/ID/1654/NASW-says-plan-to-separate-undocumented-immigrant-children-from-their-parents-is-malicious-and-unconscionable. Relatedly, NASW has long argued in favor of rapid passage of legislation that makes DACA permanent.
We at the University of Maryland School of Social Work stand with those all across our profession—and many others— to vehemently oppose the inhumane treatment of immigrants.
Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW
Dean and Past-President of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare
University of Maryland School of Social Work