Children and parents seeking asylum are regularly detained in Canada, however little is known about the experiences of detained families. International literature suggests that the detention of children is associated with significant morbidity. Our study aims to understand the experiences of detained children and families who have sought asylum in Canada by using a qualitative methodology that includes semistructured interviews and ethnographic participant observation. Detention appears to be a frightening experience of deprivation that leaves children feeling criminalized and helpless. Family separation further shatters children's sense of well-being. Children's emotional and behavioral responses to separation and to detention suggest that the experience is acutely stressful and, in some cases, traumatic--even when detention is brief. Distress and impairment may persist months after release. Given the burden of psychological suffering and the harmful consequences of separating families, children should not be detained for immigration reasons and parents should not be detained without children.
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