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Webster Professor, Students Aim Child Psychology Project At A Congressional Audience

From left, Deborah Stiles and Kaori Chaki joined the talk show for a conversation that will air during an upcoming broadcast.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

As someone focused on child and adolescent psychology, Webster University’s Deborah Stiles is used to writing about psychological theory and case studies — and working with multiple co-authors in doing so. But one of her most recent projects involves a total of 14 co-authors, and this one isn’t simply ending up in a scholarly journal.

Instead, it’s headed to the halls of power in Washington. Titled “The Psychological Impact of Separating Immigrant Children from their Families,” the 48-page report tells the stories of 10 children caught in the middle of U.S. practices along the nation’s southern border.

It’s dedicated to the late Elijah Cummings, who chaired the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform prior to his passing in October 2019. Cummings commissioned a report released last summer titled “Child Separations by the Trump Administration,” which concluded that the child separations “were more harmful, traumatic, and chaotic than previously known.”

When Stiles reviewed that staff report, she felt that there was more work to be done. The 10 case studies about children ranging from 4 months to 16 years old that the committee’s report outlined in some ways seemed to her more like descriptions of “packages being sent around” than human beings. So she and a small army of Webster graduate students got to work expanding on what Cummings had begun.

“This report is for you – the fourteen members of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” Stiles and her co-authors write near the beginning of their report, which they will present to at least one of the members at a meeting in Washington later this month. “We note that most of you have university degrees in law or political science [rather than psychology]. We have tried to make our report as understandable and meaningful as possible. We made a decision to use a ‘storytelling’ approach to each of the ten case studies. We want you to feel that you know each of the ten children, including how their lives might have been affected by the administration’s immigration policies and what the future might hold for them.”

Friday's St. Louis on the Air included Stiles' recently recorded conversation with host Sarah Fenske about how Stiles and her collaborators approached this unusual project. Kaori Chaki, one of the graduate students who traveled with Stiles to Seattle last month to present it at the Society for Cross-Cultural Research’s annual conference, also participated in the discussion.

Take a listen:

Related Event
What: A campus conversation about "The Psychological Impact of Separating Immigrant Children from their Families”
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23, 2020
Where: Webster University (470 E. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, MO 63119)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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