How To Respond to Detained Children

How To Respond to Detained Children

…and other human atrocities.

It sometimes feels like we live in a world that, when one crisis subdues, another creeps up. Detained children (or families) is just one of many community crises we could come across.

Human rights are violated frequently. And it can be hard to know what to do (let alone how to deal with our emotions) when our eyes are opened to yet another tragic situation.

Most recently, young immigrant children (and families) have been detained at disturbing rates due to a relatively new US policy.

But what does a global community do in response?

Below are just a few starting suggestions on how we can each respond to immigrants being detained. But these suggestions can be applied to *any* community tragedy.

Actually Respond

I don’t mean make a post on Instagram or change your Facebook profile picture to a temporary “in support  of” photo or banner.

Those actions can be good, yes. They can raise awareness and they are a public declaration of where you stand in your values.

But I’m talking about responding in a way that isn’t always easy (or virtual).

Be okay with getting your hands a little dirty and investing more time and energy into an issue than it might take to post something on social media.

Keep reading for ways in which you might respond whenever a human rights crisis comes to light.

Use Your Resources

What resources are available to you? What can you do to use these resources to benefit the group of people that are in harms way?

Are you a photographer? An artist?

Do you have extra money that can be put into an already existing organization?

Are you a trained professional within mental health?

There’s a really good chance that you have some type of skill, connection, or other resource that can benefit immigrant families being detained. It may be clear what you can contribute. For instance, if you are a photographer living in Texas, you might be able to travel to one of the detention centers and document images of what is happening.

It may also take time and a little bit of effort to figure out. Not everyone has the ability to travel. And not everyone is trained in journalism, mental health, medicine, or law. But everyone has a part to play.

Perhaps consider the following four prompts as you begin to consider what resources you may have to offer:

  1. Think of the material possessions you own (or have access to).

2. Then think of your skill set (not just what you are officially trained in or licensed in).

3. Consider your hobbies (photography, running, yoga, baking). How can these make a difference?

4. Then consider the connections you may have with others who might have pertinent resources as well.

Finding the most effective role for you to play may involve a bit of hard work, but do it anyways. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are doing the work. And don’t give up merely because you aren’t directly feeling the effects of the crisis at hand. It’s tempting, I know.

Be Civil

Not everyone will agree with you. Especially when it comes to issues like immigration, health care, substance use, or Black Lives Matter. And that’s okay! Actually, it can be a good thing.

Opinions are good and can keep a community from becoming biased or prejudiced toward a certain concept, value, or belief.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to completely shut down the opinion of another person. This can be dangerous because it can very quickly dehumanize anyone with a different opinion. It can also create huge rifts within a community.

Example: “Those people” believe that illegal immigrants should be detained. But “the better because we have morals” people believe that immigrants should not be detained.

Sound familiar?

What about this: “Those dumb liberals” are letting everyone, including violent criminals, into the country. But “we” stand for national security and protecting the American people.

Our words are powerful. They can build and they can destroy. Likewise, the way we treat those with whom we disagree can be productive or it can be horribly destructive.

At the end of the day, our opinions don’t matter as much as human beings do.

Brené Brown references Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath (cofounders of the Institute for Civility in Government) in her book Braving the Wilderness:

‘[Civility] is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same.’

Click here to learn more about the Institute for Civility in Government.

Our opinions are worthless if human beings are not being treated with dignity, worth, respect, and love.


This could definitely fall under the “use your resources” category, but this is also something that nearly everyone can do so it deserves its own section.

Advocate for immigrant families being detained. Call your representatives. March in a peaceful demonstration. But also advocate for the immigrants in your home town whenever necessary. Are they being treated unfairly? Is there room for improvement in your community? How might you change your community’s perspective?

And…protest. I’m not quite sure how the history of the world would have been different if it wasn’t for the occasional, necessary protest. Making our voices loud and clear is important. We get to choose how our community operates, so when something is going wrong we should make every effort to change things around.

Protest diligently and with great intention. Protesting is not a flippant decision based purely on emotion or greed, but it should be done with the greatest of care and consideration for the future of our community. We get to decide what type of world we live in and sometimes protesting is the necessary catalyst for change.

And when you protest, remember the humanity of everyone- including those with whom you disagree.

Remember that Grief is Okay

As families sit in detention centers within a nation founded on ideals such as freedom and human dignity, its okay to feel.

Practice seeing the issue from the perspective of those experiencing it firsthand. (Hint: it isn’t easy!).

Imagine what it would be like to flee your nation due to violence. Think of what it would be like to attempt to find solace in a nation that historically valued welcoming those in need. Consider what it would be like to end up sitting in a detention center (with or without your children). What would that feel like?

It’s okay to be angry, to be furious, to weep silently because your heart is breaking.

Do not feel guilty about your feelings. Be open to the emotions you are experiencing and ask yourself why you feel a certain way. It’s okay if your emotions feel messy or if processing it all is a complicated, muddy, chaotic situation because life isn’t simple/linear/one dimensional.

Again: feel those emotions. Be disturbed.

It can be the first step in practicing empathy.