Thousands of people cross the U.S. – Mexico border illegally every month in search for a better life. However, with a new “zero-tolerance” policy implemented by the administration of the U.S. president, once migrants are arrested, the adults are being jailed and prosecuted while the children end up in shelters.
The shelters for migrant children
The migrant children usually spend about two months in shelters, some of them even longer. These shelters, overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, provide good conditions for children, offering meals and medical care amongst other things. However, the experts in the fields of pediatrics and child trauma warn that the separation from their parents could have an irreversible impact on children’s health.
Short-term health impact
According to scientists, the separation is a panic-inducing and traumatic experience, which can trigger an increased production of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This in turn is followed by anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches and problems with the stomach.
Some children might cope better with the situation after the initial stress, some however can develop additional symptoms, like depression and a profound anxiety.
Long-term health impact
The age of a child and the length of the separation are the main factors in the eventual development of any long-term damage. The scientists observed that an extended period of separation from the parents can cause the child’s brain to reduce drastically its electrical activity, while a dramatic reduction in grey matter was also reported.
In addition to that, long-term psychological conditions may occur, as well as an increased chance of developing heart disease and diabetes. The behavioral impacts are also a possibility. Children may become impulsive, may have memory problems, serious lack of empathy and potentially delinquent behavior.
For now, the potential damage the “zero-tolerance” policy will have on the children, their parents, families and their surroundings is unknown. Specialists keep calling for the government to share more information about the mental support the migrant children are receiving in shelters. Most of all, according to them, the best solution is to simply stop separating the children from their parents.
Brad is a former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, is an award-winning travel, culture, and parenting writer. His writing has appeared in many of the Canada’s most respected and credible publications, including the Toronto Star, CBC News and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. A meticulous researcher who’s not afraid to be controversial, he is nationally known as a journalist who opens people’s eyes to the realities behind accepted practices in the care of children. Brad is a contributing journalist to Advocator.ca