Over 437,000 children were removed from their homes in the last year. That staggering statistic acts as a sort of report card on the American legal system.
While there are cases that warrant such extreme acts, plenty of issues should never have made it past a simple report.
This is especially true when it comes to the racial disparity occurring inside most of our government-based systems.
Family separation is a severe and traumatic event for everyone involved.
Not just the children who often experience attachment disorders, but for the parents and caregivers that are suddenly without this human being, they have cared so much to thrive.
As a result, the consequences can be particularly devastating.
In homes where there are racial differences or cultural shifts outside the mainstream, these misguided perceptions lead to long-term emotional, social, and physical harm.
As healthcare research continues to explore the impact of discrimination on separation, it is crucial that we all do everything possible to better understand the reasons behind these separations and what can be done to prevent such acts before they become too hard to repair.
The Prevalence of Healthcare Discrimination
The fact there is discrimination in healthcare is a harsh reality for many Americans. Communities of Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans receive lower quality coverage than those of white or Anglo-Saxon backgrounds.
Even in cases where they have similar insurance and medical symptoms, we consistently see the disparity. Sometimes this is from racial bias and misconceptions on the part of healthcare providers like nurses, doctors, and others.
Part of this healthcare system is the prevalence of red flags. These are indications that there may be a potential problem with the health of a younger person in the family.
This leads to false assumptions about the safety and well-being of a child based solely on their race, culture, or ethnicity.
There are too many studies to reference in this regard. Even the American Bar Association has found that black children are far more likely to be removed from their homes than white children, even when there are similar family backgrounds, demographics, and potential histories of abuse.
There is a correlation that means we as a society are targeting families of color for child removal, leading to higher rates in these communities.
The Wrongful Removal of Children
The removal of children due to healthcare-related issues can occur in several different ways. One of the more common situations is when a healthcare provider suspects there is abuse or neglect in the household.
They then turn to the Child Protective Service (CPS) and bring the evidence they have found to justify further action. These reports can demonstrate racial bias or cultural stereotypes due to a lack of understanding concerning certain communities. That leads to unnecessary investigations and removals.
There was a recent case in Texas where a black American couple decided to let their midwife treat their child’s jaundice instead of a hospital. This was directly after birth.
When the couple took their baby in for the first pediatrician visit, the healthcare provider disagreed with the decision and reported them to CPS.
The result was a month-long battle to regain custody of their newborn child from the state. This took a combination of legal arguments, social media posts, and public outcry before calmer minds prevailed.
Another way you will see healthcare discrimination lead to family separation is through cases of misdiagnosis or over diagnosis. For example, a healthcare provider may see a child with a known developmental disorder and mistake it for a mental health condition.
This will then cause the provider to conclude the child is not receiving adequate care or attention at home and lead to a report that triggers a placement in foster care or group homes.
That is where the child may experience further trauma and instability, having been cut from their current support system without cause.
The Impact of Family Separation on Children
That trauma is worth pointing out. When children are separated from their families, they will have long-term emotional and physical repercussions.
This can result in increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a number of other maladies. It also increases the rate of potential physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and other negative outcomes.
All this sudden separation will negatively affect a child’s brain development, particularly in areas related to social and emotional processing.
That means, the child, regardless of race, background, or culture, will have challenges regulating emotions, managing stress, or developing empathy and trust. Children experiencing family separation will have a higher risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and so much more.
Now take all the information and put it into the frame of racial disparity.
These communities are already untrusting of government overreach. When we rip children from homes without cause, we create a ripple effect throughout the rest of that community that can last for generations.
We, as human beings, need to do everything within our power to ensure we have rock-solid evidence for such extreme actions.
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution to this issue. However, there are plenty of steps we can take to lower the potential risk of such separations happening within the healthcare community.
We need to address the root cause of these biases and misconceptions by providing cultural competency training, implanting anti-discrimination policies/protocols, and promoting diversity and inclusion in healthcare settings.
We have to do everything possible to rebuild bridges between all communities and instill trust in our patients and clients so families can receive the care and support they need without fear of discrimination or harm.
Advocacy and education are equally important. We should partner with local community organizations, advocacy groups, and policymakers to promote practices that prevent family separations.
Common sense and critical thinking need to take the front of every discussion, so all rights are protected, and the appropriate resources are allocated to those that just need help and not harm.
Healthcare providers are at a crucial role in preventing this type of discrimination. Instead of being the people feared by groups, they can be powerful advocates by improving how they interact with patients and families.
We should be cultivating a safe and welcoming environment for all patients, regardless of race, ethnicity, or other cultural factors.
We can expand these steps to the public policy space by ensuring local, state, and national lawmakers are aware of such discrimination and are working with healthcare providers to find fair and evidence-based solutions.
That should include the voices of marginalized communities, so they feel empowered and are heard at every level.
We should all feel some outrage at family separation due to healthcare discrimination. This is a devastating experience that we can prevent with the right tools at our disposal.
By working together to address these issues, we can ensure all children and families receive the care and support they need, and not the knock on the door that rips these families apart.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota