Texas Tech University

Expert Available to Discuss Psychological Effects of Separation of Families

Amanda Castro-Crist

June 21, 2018

Patricia Hawley, a professor of educational psychology in the Texas Tech College of Education, can speak on the emotional, social and mental effects children experience when separated from their primary caregiver.

Patricia H. Hawley
Patricia H. Hawley

In May, a “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented toward people who enter the United States illegally. Within six weeks, more than 2,300 children were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and placed in separate detainment facilities, including three “tender age” facilities for infants and other young children. On June 20, the policy separating families was halted and replaced with one that that will detain entire families together. There was no policy announced regarding reuniting the thousands of children already in detainment with their families.

Patricia H. Hawley is a professor of educational psychology and leadership in the Texas Tech University College of Education who specializes in power relationships across development, human behavior, the evolution of children's social relationships and aggression. She can speak on the emotional, social and mental effects children experience when separated from their primary caregiver. Hawley was recently featured on the website Psychology Today discussing these issues.


Patricia H. Hawley, professor of education psychology and leadership,(806) 834-1878 or patricia.hawley@ttu.edu

Talking Points

  • The first lessons an infant learns about others and self-value are through interactions with caregivers that provide love and support. These relationships are essential for emotional, social and personality development.
  • When separated from a primary caregiver, children process grief in certain stages: protest, despair and detachment. A child can go through the entire process in as little as several days. In prolonged separations, the damage may be irreversible.


  • “It doesn't matter how well-provisioned young children are in ‘shelters.' Warmth, food, medicine, toys and other material comforts are not enough. We have long known not to separate young children from loving caregivers because you will deny them the exact forces that make them human.”
  • “This happens much faster than most people imagine. If separated children are not reunited with a sensitive, loving caregiver, they may never regain trust, and the relationship may be irreversibly damaged. Consequently, the child may be set on a course of mistrust with others or, in extreme cases, may withdraw from loving relationships with others altogether and become the very type of individual we are told to fear.”