Migrant Family Separation Congressional Testimony: Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff
My testimony today is based on strong scientific consensus supported by decades of peer-reviewed research. Sudden, forcible separation of children from their parents is deeply traumatic for both the child and the parent. Above and beyond the distress we see “on the outside,” this triggers a massive biological stress response “inside” the child, which remains activated until the parent returns and provides comfort. Continuing separation removes the most important protection a child can possibly have to prevent long-term damage—a loving adult who’s totally devoted to his or her well-being.
Without exaggeration, thousands of studies converge on the following two core scientific concepts:
- A strong foundation for healthy development in young children requires a stable, responsive, and supportive relationship with at least one parent or primary caregiver.
- High and persistent levels of stress activation (known as “toxic stress”) can disrupt the architecture of the developing brain and other biological systems with serious negative impacts on learning, behavior, and lifelong health.
Early experiences are literally built into our brains and bodies. Stable and responsive relationships promote healthy brain architecture, establish well-functioning immune, cardiovascular, and metabolic systems, and strengthen the building blocks of resilience.
If these relationships are disrupted, young children are hit by the “double whammy” of a brain that is deprived of the positive stimulation it needs and assaulted by a stress response that disrupts its developing circuitry.