Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, Global, Government, Public Health

Can’t stop thinking about the children

July 19, 2019

Consequences of maltreatment at the border are immediate, severe and long-lasting

I woke up about 3 o’clock Sunday morning. I just could not stop thinking about what our government is doing to immigrant children at the southern U.S. border.

According to a recent interview with Jack Shonkoff, professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, by Isaac Chotiner, in The New Yorker, “The American Psychological Association, among other groups, has issued multiple statements on the effects of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, writing that they ‘pose serious harm to the psychological well-being of immigrant children, their U.S.-born siblings, and other family members.’”

For the incarcerated children, the present appears to be full of fear, insecurity, malnutrition, neglect and deprivation; devoid of safety, basic hygiene, comfort, exercise and play. For these children — who, with their families and others, fled their homes and communities to find safety and a better life, the hope of a future — we don’t know exactly what the long-term effects of this maltreatment on their growth and development will be, but we do know there will be negative consequences for both their physical and mental health.

Migrant children describe neglect at Texas border facility
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.
PBS News Hour, June 21, 2019

Dr. Shonkoff said,

There are just two core issues that are screaming out. One is the fact that the forced and abrupt separation of children from their parents is a huge psychological trauma and assault. The magnitude of the nature of the crisis for a child’s health and well-being cannot be overstated. Abrupt separation from primary caregivers or parents is a major psychological emergency.

[P]rolonged institutionalization is a separate area in which we have an equally deep research base and knowledge about how damaging that kind of setting is for kids. We are dealing with two very well-studied, serious assaults on the health and well-being of children.

These problems were not caused directly by natural disasters, wars, climate change or other events, although these are contributing factors to migration. They were caused by our inhumane policies that separate children from caregivers and place children in unsafe conditions, endangering their physical and mental health. A country that debates whether children need three meals a day and whether they are entitled to toothbrushes is one that has lost its moorings. How we treat children is the deepest expression of our fundamental morals, values and humanity. We can do better. We must do better.

How to help

In addition to speaking out, joining demonstrations, volunteering aid, contacting your representatives in Congress and voting, you can support the efforts of organizations such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee to advocate for and assist immigrant children and families.

For more information, see “Children Shouldn’t Be Dying at the Border. Here’s How You Can Help.” in The New York Times, June 24, 2019.

The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.