Extinguishing the Beacon of America – The Atlantic

Wendy Young, the CEO of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)—which assists migrant children with legal representation—told me, “The family-separation policy has particularly targeted the little ones. The youngest we’ve seen is an 11-month-old.”

The developmental implications for children at such tender ages are dire. “This is when the most rapid brain growth is happening,” Julie Linton, a co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, told me. “The traumatizing is really impeding children and their ability to contribute to the world.”

“The most alarming cases have been with really young children,” she said. “We’ve seen changes in bodily functions, sleeping, eating, and toileting.”

Children may start to wet themselves or lose bowel control, or engage in “self-injurious behavior,” Shapiro said.

“They are detached. Numb. Aggressive. Anxious,” Linton said. “They have exaggerated responses, like door slamming. There are changes in learning, there are temper tantrums and limited working memory.”

Separated children are often in shock. But there are also internal changes, ones that are less visible but no less distressing. “Physiologically, we are damaging the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems,” Shapiro said. “All these things with prolonged stress without a buffer lead to long-term chronic diseases: cancer, depression, obesity, worsening asthma.”

And then there is the impact on mental development. “We are putting children in a constant fight-or-flight mode,” Shapiro said. “It shuts down their memory centers and is potentially affecting their long-term learning and development. I almost have never seen this.”

While heroic efforts are under way—by advocates, aid workers, and nonprofit groups—to mitigate the effects of this state-directed trauma, the sheer magnitude of the demand is compromising the efficacy of that work. After being taken from their parents, many children end up in large detention centers—in some cases, little more than warehouses—which are increasingly overcrowded, due to the surge in demand. According to the director of one nonprofit group that assists migrant children (who asked to remain anonymous), these facilities—housing as many as 1,500 children of tender ages—are far too large and ill-equipped to deal with children who are grappling with severely traumatic experiences. In America’s domestic child-services management, the director explained, “we stopped doing that decades ago—putting kids in large facilities. And now we’re going in the opposite direction.”

With numbers like these, the ratio of adult caregivers and clinicians to children has grown alarmingly low, complicating efforts to reach and rehabilitate the most vulnerable. (It has also compromised the ability to assist children in finding their parents before they are deported—an increasingly time-sensitive proposition, given the Trump administration’s policy of expedited removal.)

Extinguishing the Beacon of America – The Atlantic

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