Separating Families [at the Border] Within Our Borders


Separating Families at the Border Within Our Borders

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”

—Luke 18:15-17

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, his disciples attempted to separate Jesus from children. Jesus rebuked them. He said, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus did not want to be separated from children. Who could blame him? Children are innocent. Children are pure. When you want bask in pure joy, pick up a child.

Much ink (and digital space) has been given lately to the discussion of the federal policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to immigrate to the US. On July 4th, I sat in front of my television and watched a woman stand at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and wave a “Rise and Resist” shirt in protest of the policies of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). How she climbed up the pedestal of Lady Liberty to get to the base of the statue is a mystery to me. But there she was, on the 4th of July, altering the vacation plans of thousands of tourists and capturing the attention of news crews in the media capital of the US.

But what about children within the US borders? Little has been written about children who live within the borders of the US who are separated from their parents and placed in foster care or a juvenile care facility. When I recently read J. D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, I became aware of the practice of separating children from their parents and other family members for small infractions by the adults.

Vance grew up a self-professed “hillbilly,” meaning he grew up poor. He was part of a poor “white” community in Kentucky and Ohio. He found his way out of poverty by first joining the Marines and then pursing an education at Ohio State and earning a law degree at Yale. I learned much about the systemic problems of poverty within Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley by reading Vance’s book. Toward the end of his excellent book, Vance writes, “In a given year, 640,000 children, most of them poor, will spend at least some time in foster care (p. 244).”

Granted, most of these children are placed in foster care for their protection. Too often they are victims of abuse. But that’s not always the case. There are times when their parents are a little down on their luck, have their back against the wall, or don’t know what to do to get a break. They are people Howard Thurman would identify as the “disinherited.” Instead of helping parents get a leg up in the world, officials step in and take their child away and give them to strangers.


Shaila Dewan reports about cases of children being separated from their parents in the June 23, 2018 edition of The New York Times, writing, “Some three-quarters of cases nationwide involve not abuse, but neglect, a ‘really broad umbrella” that ‘often just looks like poverty,’ said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University.” Dewan provides another quote from Wildeman, “There’s no consistent evidence that removing kids is, on average, beneficial, and there’s substantial evidence that it does harm.”

Children must be protected from harm. That’s a given. But what would happen if more resources were given to help the parents learn to overcome their struggles so that they could provide for their children?

The Children’s Rights website gives these stats on children in the  foster care system. The numbers are staggering.

  • On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States.
  • In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.
  • On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.
  • Despite the common perception that the majority of children in foster care are very young, the average age of kids entering care is 7.
  • In 2016, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color.
  • While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority—12 percent—live in institutions or group homes.
  • In 2016, more than 65,000 children—whose mothers’ and father’ parental rights had been legally terminated—were waiting to be adopted.
  • In 2016, more than 20,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.
  • While states should work rapidly to find safe permanent homes for kids, on any given day children available for adoption have spent an average of nearly two years waiting to be adopted since their parental rights were terminated.

What can we do to help here? Here’s a few suggestions:

First, you can mentor parents who have their backs against the wall and help them learn skills to overcome specific struggles so that they can be excellent parents.

Second, volunteer to help children who are in foster care. Show these children compassion and love.

Third, contact agencies in your county and ask how you can help parents in need and children in need.

Fourth, consider adoption. In 2016, 65,000 children in the US were waiting to be adopted.


Vance, J. D.. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (p. 244). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1949.

Dewan, Shaila. “Young Children Taken From Their Parents: It Doesn’t Just Happen to Immigrants. The New York Times. June 23, 1018.