Detained Children: Part III

Jul 16, 2018

This is part 3 in the continuing discussion of childhood detainees and its effect on their development. One question that can be asked is "why are these people bringing their children to the U.S?" What motivates immigration in this way.

In today's contribution , Professor Antonia Makosky (School of Nursing) describes her experience in dealing with a woman and her children in the Congo, while serving with Doctor Without Borders. Antonia draws an important parallel to the current crisis in the US, citing the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' position on family unity. I found the statement to be an important beacon in this discussion. Thanks to Antonia for sharing this important message and for her service in the Congo.

From Antonia Makosky, DNP, MSN, MPH, ANP-BC, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

In my last trip to the Eastern Congo with Doctors without Borders I was posted in an area where the war had just recently ended. Rebels still hid in the forests with their families. One day, as we prepared to head home from a community health center, the nurse manager asked if we could take a family back to our hospital. The family consisted of a woman and her three children; the woman was the wife of one of the rebels. They had been hiding in the forest but now her middle daughter, age 3, was severely malnourished, and would die without special care. The woman, her 8-year-old, and her infant son, were also malnourished. The woman and her 8-year-old daughter were quiet and shy. 

It was against the usual policy to admit a family with multiple children unless the woman was pregnant. However, the staff felt very strongly that we must take in and provide shelter and care to this whole family. The staff said to me repeatedly, “they have nothing.” There was never a question of separating the family; of only taking the sickest child to care for. In African hospitals, the patient is always accompanied by a family member. 

Initially the hospital staff was concerned for the life of the 3-year-old child. She was cared for in the pediatric ICU. Slowly she improved. Meanwhile the health of the woman and her other two children improved as well. The eldest daughter became less shy and more interactive. 

This family was fleeing from violence, as so many Central American families are now. These families have suffered untold hardships and trauma as they make their way north to escape drug and gang violence in their home countries. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) espouses a policy of family unity. According to the UNHCR: The right to family life and family unity is a right that applies to everyone, including asylum seekers whose status has not yet been determined. There are many benefits to maintaining the family unit, including returning a sense of normalcy, easing a sense of loss, attempting to ensure safety and protect against danger. In particular, keeping the family together helps protect against human smuggling trafficking, common in both the Eastern Congo and along the Mexico-America border. 

I am relieved by the recent decision to end this cruel and dangerous policy of separating parents from children on our southern border. We must do our best to reunite those children already separated from their parents, and prevent this practice from recurring in the future.


Nicholson, F. 2018. The “Essential Right” to Family Unity of Refugees and Others in Need of International Protection in the Context of Family Reunification. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Retrieved from

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