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Detained Children: Part V

Jul 16, 2018

This is part five in a series of blog contributions from faculty members at MGH Institute of Health Professions. These submissions focus on physical and psychological effects of confinement, and also the effect of separation on parents. Thanks to Drs. Keysor and Goodman.

Detainment. Separation. Neglect Abuse. Confinement. Cages.

Julie Keysor, PhD
Chair, Department of Physical Therapy

None of these words are okay when it comes to people, and are even more deplorable when applied to children in the context of the recent U.S. policies about immigration. To see and hear the cries of detained children removed from their parents is heartbreaking. The stress from this situation will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on children and their families. Others in this blog are writing about the socio-emotional and psychological effects of this type of activity on children – the risk for significant short and long-term effects in these areas is crystal clear. My colleagues and I in our contribution to the blog are sharing a few thoughts on the physical health effects such situations can trigger.

From the most immediate and acute perspective, heart rate, blood pressure, and one’s ‘fight or flight’ nervous system will be triggered. These physiological changes may cause anxiety and behavioral responses. Limited opportunities to engage in play may result in global developmental delays including deficits in social, cognitive, sensory processing, gross and fine motor ability abilities. More specifically, prolonged restricted activity and movement will cause developmental delays in young children and could lead to abnormal bone growth and muscle development. Children will be at increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain, and these detained children have the risk of being under diagnosed or misdiagnosed leading to lifelong chronic disability, underemployment, and deprivation. The stress from this situation will impact health – no doubt – this is a health situation and affects health of the individual and our entire public health system.

And What about the Parents? 

Janice Goodman, PhD, 
Professor, School of Nursing

Most of the news has focused on the traumatic effects of separating parents and children at the border on children. But, imagine also the anguish that a mother or father must feel to have their child ripped, crying and screaming, from their arms. Imagine not being able to comfort your child, to not even know where they are, who they are with, what is happening to them, if they are okay, when and even if they will ever see them again. Just as with children, trauma and stress increases an adult's risk for mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, it is heartbreaking, though not surprising, to know that Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran man who crossed the border in May with his wife and 3-year old son, was so distraught that he kicked, screamed, and could not be calmed after his son was forcibly taken from him. Mr. Munoz was taken to a detention center and, less than 12 hours later was found dead in his cell, apparently having taken his own life. This is how this horrific policy affects parents! It is beyond cruel. It is shameful and unacceptable.

Instead of offering compassion and safety, by forcibly separating children and parents we are inflicting further trauma and suffering on vulnerable families who have already experienced extreme suffering – in their home countries, and during their migration to what they hoped would be a safe place. As health care providers, our purpose is to alleviate suffering – both physical and emotional.

Posted by
Alex
Johnson

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