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June 27, 2018 Diane Ryan

Bordering on Abuse

Long-Term Consequences for Children Separated from Parents at the Border

children separated at border

The behavioral health community has decried the removal of migrant children from their families seeking asylum at the border. Awareness of the pervasive and persistent effects of what are known as adverse childhood events and the long-term effects of this type of traumatic injury necessitates a decisive response to this ill-conceived policy.

Mental health practitioners are acutely conscious of the negative effects of trauma on neurological, physical and emotional development. The severity of these effects may be influenced by development stage, age, family stability, previous violent and traumatic experiences such as the gang violence that often precipitates the need to seek asylum. These children arrive at the border under extreme adversity, which is compounded exponentially by removal from their sole connection to love and safety. This is nothing short of a criminal act, and the current requirement that children under five be reunited with parents within two weeks is completely inadequate. Our government is then responsible for the PTSD symptoms that may plague these children and impact their families for the rest of their lives. Physical challenges, tantrums, developmental regression and hearing voices are common, as well as anxiety, fear of separation, depression, suicidality, eating disorders, depression, attention deficit and insomnia as the consequences of subjecting children to these conditions.

Time Magazine reported on June 18, 2018, that 12 migrant children currently fostered in New York have been brought to local emergency departments for treatment. The ongoing lack of stability caused by the separation creates an exceptionally difficult situation for these children, who are still in crisis with no clear indication of when they will be reunited with their families. Here in Tucson, therapists have joined in meditation and protests at the Southwest Key facility on Oracle. Ongoing pressure on the administration to reunite families as quickly as possible is needed to minimize the damage. This must be coupled with the respectful and humane treatment of people who have suffered greatly in their quest for the survival of themselves and their children. As mental health professionals, we must be prepared to deal with the aftermath of trauma wherever we encounter it, and prevent the administration and other agencies from acting as perpetrators.

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