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Hugs That Never Came and Meant Death

Updated: Jul 2, 2019



History will be unkind, deservedly so, to America and the Trump administration when it comes time to dissect the full details of the separation of children from their parents and incarcerating them in cages. No words can describe the cruelty and lasting damage we will realize by these unconscionable actions. No justification exists for such inhumane, damaging behavior.

In the United States, we have precedents for what happens when children are denied the simple action of a hug, a kind word, a caring touch. We have been told that guards at the kid concentration camps set up by this government have been instructed not to touch the children who are left to cry in their terror at being separated from their parents. Cruel and unusual punishment, even in horrific legal cases, has been found unacceptable, yet these little kids are subjected to it.

A program, not considered unethical at the time, but which underscored the value of touch, was in operation in New York State after WWII. Orphanages where children were cared for provided all the necessities of food, water and clean bedding. The one thing missing was touch, picking up the youngsters and cradling or rocking them. Rocking, in fact, seems to play a central role in our attempts to soothe.


Touch, by all the research we have over the past decades is vital to mental and physical growth. Children who are abused, on average, fail to thrive as they would have in a loving home. The biology of these children changes in that they show lower levels of vital hormones and higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can be physically damaging. The experiments by Harry Harlow with baby monkeys showed how devastating maternal separation and lack of touch can be.

In adults, we know that "therapeutic touch" is now a basic component in recuperation and rehabilitation for hospitalized patients and even in psychotherapy. Nursing programs have incorporated this modality into their training. Yet we deny even this human contact to these children in distress.

How is it not considered extreme cruelty to deny any child the gentle, loving touch they require to be comforted? How much worse when they are placed in cages and their fate is unknown?

Children in Spitz' experiment in the orphanages died not from lack of receiving the "necessities" of life, but from loneliness, isolation and they began to rock to self-soothe. He called it "hospitalism." It didn't work and small children, under one year of age, died. A Forbes article on orphanages stated, "37% of the infants kept in the bleak hospital ward died." Skeptics will argue it was from an unknown or untreatable illness, but is picking up a child so scientific or so unthinkable? It saves lives.

Our government, from all the research found, is killing children by denying the basic necessity of touch and human attachment. Who will ultimately be held responsible for this crime against the children in these camps?

#therapeutictouch #immigrantchildren #ReneSpitz #hospitalism #HarryHarlow

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DR. PATRICIA A. FARRELL