Todo Por Mi Familia Program Helps Immigrant Families Who Were Separated From Their Children
Mental health experts talk to People CHICA about the Todo Por Mi Familia initiative, which provides counseling to immigrant parents and children who were separated at the U.S. border.
Todo Por Mi Familia is a new mental health initiative by California based nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies, which will be coordinating mental health services (including counseling) for thousands of reunified immigrant parents and children across the United States who were separated at the border by the Trump administration’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy.
"When you forcefully separate children and families at the border, trauma will ensue and reunification on its own is not adequate to address the trauma," lawyer Paige F. Chan, executive director of Southern California Programs for Seneca, tells People CHICA. "There are lots of reports that the children were rejecting the parents because they didn’t understand what led to the separation. They didn’t understand that the parents didn’t willingly leave them and separate from them and that affects their relationship. There is a lot of anxiety over whether or not it would happen again. There is lots of fear, anxiety, sadness, and PTSD."
Program supervisor Johanna Navarro-Perez adds: "My program has worked with kids that have been separated from their families and there is also a loss of culture. A lot of foster homes are not culturally matched so they have to learn a new language, a new style of being parented, so there is a lot of impact that these separations have on them."
A majority of the families affected originally come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and are now living in the United States — mainly in Florida, Texas, California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Virginia, and Arizona. The families are all at different points of their asylum processes in the U.S. and most were fleeing violence in their home countries.
"What we are hearing is that the parents are also feeling fear, anxiety, not knowing how to support their children. We are so focused on helping the parents restrengthen the bond with their children so they can move forward and achieve the life that they were hoping for," Chan says. "A significant proportion of these families don’t speak Spanish. They speak indigenous languages like Mam and Quiché and we are fortunate to work with providers and agencies that are able to provide interpretation services so families can communicate in the language they are most comfortable speaking in."
Navarro-Perez says the healing process can vary after reunification. "The healing for some families can be quick and smooth and they are just happy to be with each other, but for other families it depends, because they are relearning each other and their new systems. I have worked with parents that haven’t seen their child for six or seven months, and it’s like a seeing a new child for them."
One of the biggest obstacles is building trust with the families so they are open to getting the services and overcoming the mental health stigma in the Latinx community. "The parents are eager to make a life for themselves and their children and we are focused on helping families move forward by addressing whatever they need in terms of mental health," says Chan.
Families and children who entered the U.S. on or after July 1, 2017 and were separated when they entered and later reunified are eligible for services. Chan adds that it doesn't matter if they are undocumented; all information is kept confidential and will never be shared with ICE or any government entity.
Families may access services by calling Seneca’s confidential and toll-free hotline at 844-529-3327. For general inquiries about how to assist families in accessing these services or for more info about the Todo Por Mi Familia initiative, please contact 323-326-8287 or email Info@todopormifamilia.org