Abstract: The Impact of Forced-Family Separation on Development: A Case Comparison between Indigenous Children in Canada and Immigrant Youth in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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546P The Impact of Forced-Family Separation on Development: A Case Comparison between Indigenous Children in Canada and Immigrant Youth in the United States

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Dow-Fleisner, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia, Kelowna, BC, Canada
Background: Families are key socializing agents essential in introducing children to knowledge about the world, enabling them to develop a sense of self and acquire skills within broader relational and situational contexts. Children are most influenced by their family, as they are largely dependent on them for nurturance, protection, and supportive relationships during a period of vulnerability and growth. In spite of the nearly-universal importance of families for children, larger socio-political and geographic influences have led to the systematic forced separation of children from their families on the basis of identity politics. In North America, this phenomenon has occurred throughout history into present day and across a diverse range of ethno-racial groups. In this review, we will focus on forced-family separation among Indigenous children within the context of Canadian residential schools/60’s scoop and migrant children at the southern US border. We examined the policies and factors leading to forced-family separation across these populations, examined the impact to development and family functioning, and explored the role of social workers.

Methods: A comparative case analysis was used to compare forced-family separation between migrant children arriving at the US southern boarders and among Indigenous children in Canada in the context of residential schools and the 60’s scoop. Although comparing two internally and externally diverse and unique populations, it is important to highlight shared features that may hold important insights as to the impacts of institutionalized forced-family separation. We completed a systematic search of peer-reviewed and grey literature focused on forced-family separation within these two populations.

Results: While there are other populations affected by forced-family separation, among these two populations there was a clear presence of institutional discriminatory (e.g. racist, xenophobic, colonizing) practices separating families and obstructing the reunification of families without a legitimate cause. Further, these child populations often are not returned to the care of another familiar or familial caregiver, but rather are often placed within the care of government-run institutions, such as the residential school system, the child welfare system, or within immigration enforcement bodies. Often a lack of appropriate record keeping has led to the inability to reunify children after separation. Social workers involved in forced-family separation amongst these populations have and continue play significant roles during family separation and post-separation. Social workers find themselves as both perpetrators of forced-family separation, as well as advocates seeking to find solutions in the aftermath and consequences of separation. The impacts of forced-family separation have clear impacts to physical, language, and social development among children, and have life-long impacts to family functioning. Further, we found significant examples of resilience and resistance that among these populations.

Conclusion: By examining systematic barriers and oppressive factors, we are better able to understand individual differences in developmental outcomes among groups impacted by forced-family separation. In spite of the clear harm caused by forced-family separation, this practice continues. Social workers have the opportunity to play a vital role in policy development that eliminates forced-family separation, and within practice to support those impacted by this harmful process.