Child psychologist breaks down the trauma of family separation

Dr. Jamie Howard of the Child Mind Institute explains what's happening in a child's mind after experiencing trauma.
4:27 | 06/21/18

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Transcript for Child psychologist breaks down the trauma of family separation
We're gonna turn now to our ABC news headquarters in New York where you would usually find us reporting from but that's what we thought. Doctor Jamie Howard of the child my institute and we're gonna talk about that trauma doctor doctor Howell noted that trauma how from an attic is this. For these children. That this is incredibly traumatic for these kids and there's two parts to it there's that ongoing trauma in the current separation and then others the aftermath. And the post traumatic stress disorder that will very likely in soup for the majority of the kids. Being separated it is causing. Chronic flight late freeze response in these children and that's sort of like what you're seeing in that little boy who is just reunited with his father. He was having a classic freeh's response. He doesn't know how to react his body is sort of shutting down at the reminder of the trauma of seeing his father isn't this. Sort of happy he's. Relieving situation that we would hope it instead he's confused and overwhelmed and his attachment and relationship to his father his then. Damaged by this traumatic he's been through. You know Alex told us doctor Howard that at the airport that child some way that ten year old boy. Would he solved. A law enforcement officer walked through there he immediately just just grabbed on it and tried hiding behind people because he was. He was so afraid thank goodness that the ice agent who took him on that plane was in plain clothes as those of tolls little bit about that because that at that that's evidence right there. Of some serious trauma. Right absolutely that's actually a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder we tend to avoid people places things situations that remind us of the trauma. In the trauma that happens has gotten paired with the fight flight freeh's response that happens at the time of the trauma. So that other things can go on to trigger that response is seeing the official that ice agent. Would definitely be an example of something that would trigger that site flight response. And kids who have and their comments like this sort of chronic traumas they have a hard time regulating their bodies and their emotions because and that's because the chronic firing stress hormones and chemicals throughout their body. They have a hard times are accurately assessing threats and they're constantly on guard hyper vigilant. It really deep creases there of ability to be available to learned to make friends to do the kinds of things that we want kids to be able to do. In these are the long term consequences of the trauma that's going on right now. And you know we hear a lot of people sometimes say. They are in better physical conditions where they are in these shelters. Then in their own homes back in their home country but experts say it doesn't matter how clean the black kids are it doesn't matter how good the food is it doesn't matter that they be have a roof over their head quite frankly that's what the experts are saying because what matters they say is that. They are separated from their parents. That's exactly right it's the separation that's the trauma we we don't know exactly what that conditions ire of the detention centers there's some reports that there. Perfectly appropriate but even if they are the separation is incredibly traumatic especially for our younger children toddlers. Preschool age children infants of course. They are reliance on their parents for coping it's the primary and pretty much only developmentally expected coping strategy for a young child. Contacts and looking to apparent to sort of interpret a scarier confusing situation that's that there therefore that's had children make sense of the world. And regularly all of their intense emotions and their deprived. Of the one coping strategy that they should developmentally have. There's also reports that they're not being able debt that they're not being touched our hunt. And that's really problematic we know from stories from Romanian orphanages that without that kind of physical assurance and contact. Kids really don't do well there there is stress chemicals throughout their body are just coursing. And flooding their brain and causing long term damage. We actually know that kids exposed to this kind of chronic trauma have smaller brains than children. Who have not been exposed to trauma so. That this is causing permanent damage to these kids and they really need to be separated as soon as possible to end ongoing trauma and then they can start to recover. With the aftermath. All right doctor Howard we so appreciate your insight think you so much. For joining us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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