For Children Separated from Parents at the Border, Trauma Lingers

In our weekly news roundup: the health effects of family separation, transparency in animal research, and more.


After images of immigrant children being held in chain-link cages at a facility in Texas began circulating online, followed by leaked audio of a group of kids crying in desperation for their parents, President Trump gave into political pressure on Wednesday and signed an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Doctors and welfare experts say children separated from their families can experience lasting trauma.

Visual: HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Though the news was a welcome relief to many — as 500 of the more than 2,300 children separated are said to have been reunited with their families — doctors, psychologists, and child welfare experts say lasting damage has likely already been done.

In an interview with CNN, Colleen Kraft, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, asserted that taking children who have already fled traumatic events in their home countries from their parents amounts to child abuse. “It produces a condition called toxic stress, which is an elevation of your fight or flight hormones,” Kraft told CNN. “It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social-emotional bonds, and gross motor skills.”

When Kraft visited a facility run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Texas, she said she was told workers were not allowed to pick up or touch the children in any way. “The really basic, foundational needs of having trust in adults as a young child was not being met,” she told The Washington Post. “That contradicts everything we know that the kids need to build their health.” 

In addition to issues with development, public health experts say childhood trauma, if left untreated, is associated with alcoholism, substance use disorders, depression, and suicide, among other problems.

In a statement published on Wednesday, following Trump’s roll back of the separation policy, the American Psychological Association said children need to be reunited with their families as soon as possible to minimize any long-term damage.

Also in the news:

• On Wednesday, the pro-animal research advocacy group Speaking of Research published an open letter in USA Today urging institutions across the United States to “develop new and innovative ways to communicate their vital research with the American public.” The letter was signed by nearly 600 scientists, students, and lab animal workers, including four Nobel Prize–winning biologists. While there are policies in place in most countries, including the U.S., to ease or prevent pain in lab animals whenever possible, doing so is not an easy task, and, as advocates who oppose animal research will point out, animal trial results don’t always translate to humans. (Science)

• Canada became the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana on Thursday, after the Senate passed a bill known as the “Cannabis Act” in a 52-29 vote. When the act goes into effect on October 17, recreational marijuana use will be sanctioned in all provinces and territories. (In the U.S., in contrast, recreational use is legalized in only nine states and the District of Columbia.) The October implementation date represents an extension of several months beyond the government’s original timeframe, to allow local governments more time to establish retail and online shops. It also allows more time for the provinces and territories to set regulations; for instance, raising the minimum legal age for recreational use by an additional year. (CTV News)

• Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technologist, is known for many things: his passion for paleontology, his award-winning modernist cooking, his status as a “patent troll” who buys up cheap patents to exact payments from companies he accuses of infringing them. Lately he’s turned his attention to outer space, and in 2016 he accused NASA of relying on flawed science in its assessments of thousands of asteroids with the potential of striking Earth. The space agency dismissed his concerns, but now Myhrvold has earned a measure of revenge: Icarus, a leading planetary science journal, published his peer-reviewed paper arguing that NASA’s estimate of the sizes of many near-Earth asteroids might be off by more than 100 percent — an important error, if proved, because the larger the asteroid, the more damage it could do in a collision. (It was an asteroid, of course, that wiped out Myhrvold’s beloved dinosaurs.) NASA did not offer a direct rebuttal, and at least one agency scientist acknowledged that “for the most part, I think Myhrvold is correct.” (New York Times)

• Methane — a potent contributor to atmospheric climate change — is leaking from American oil and gas wells, pipelines, and storage sites at a rate some 60 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency originally estimated, a new study concludes. Published in the journal Science, the report estimates methane leaks from energy infrastructure average more than 28 billion pounds a year and calls into question the methods used by the EPA to calculate oil and industry effects on environment. The study was done by a consortium of researchers from universities, federal agencies, and environmental groups. Ramón Alvarez, a lead author from the Environmental Defense Fund, says the leaked gas “essentially doubles the climate impact of natural gas use over a 20-year period.” (Buzzfeed)

• It’s an old story by now: Electronic and appliance waste migrates from rich countries to poor countries, where enterprising laborers with few better options dismantle or burn gnarled mountains of old electronics in search of salable parts — mostly metals like copper. Along the way, noxious fumes and chemicals are released into the local environment with few controls and very real impacts on the health of the local communities where such ad hoc industries flourish. But while most Westerners associate the e-waste problem with struggling areas of Africa and Asia, parts of the Palestinian Territories, too, are awash in discarded computers, printers, and other byproducts of the digital age — much of it from Israel, and very often to demonstrably ill effect. A grassroots movement, spearheaded by Palestinian mothers and guided by researchers on both sides of the political divide, are now fighting for change — one burning pile of e-waste at a time. “We started burning as much as we could get our hands on,” one recycler told our reporter. “Then nobody thought, or cared, about the dangers.” (Undark)

• And finally: The famed western lowland gorilla Koko, said to have been fluent in American Sign Language and to understand some 2,000 words of spoken English, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 46. Born at San Francisco Zoo on July 4, 1971, Koko began learning sign language the following year from psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson. Over the years, she was able to use more than 1,000 different signs and became an ambassador for her species, appearing in documentaries and twice on the cover of National Geographic. Beyond her language abilities, which have been questioned by some scientists, Koko stunned the world when she learned to play the recorder in 2012, demonstrating a control of breath thought only to be possible in humans. (NPR)

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    On the subject of separating children from their parents…

    Studies from removals to foster care show that about 1/4 were unnecessary and another 1/4 could/should have stayed home with family services. Another 1/4 of removals may not have been necessary if preventative services had been in place to prevent the problem in the first place.

    Our nation puts over 200,000 kids in foster care a year, and given the above data, about 100,000 could/should have stayed home. CAPTA has been in effect for over 40 years, so that’s 4 MILLION kids that have been shipped to foster care unnecessarily!!!

    Why is no one shedding any tears for them? Why is no one picketing for them? Look at all the ‘foster / adoption agencies! Their focus is to help foster kids and then offer services for adoption. There are few/no services to help the children’s family so they can get the children back.

    For those that say kids are removed for ‘horrible abuse’ children are removed for abuse 17 percent of the time. 80 percent of removals are for ‘neglect’ which can be anything from severe drug use to allowing your child to play outside to getting behind on your utility bills.

    Why is this? Could it be that there is SO MUCH MONEY involved in the current system? There’s the money that comes from the feds when kids are put in foster care. There is more money from the feds if a child is adopted. To the tune of over 8 BILLION a year. Services for family preservation? Perhaps 500 MILLION.

    Then there are all the employees that require kids ‘in the system’ for their jobs. Not just caseworkers, but support staff, therapists, even attorneys! Then there are foster / adoption agencies. Yes many are non profit but they have employees that are paid.

    It would all be well and good if the perception of kids always being removed for horrible abuse and sent to loving foster homes was true but it is often not. Any child that spends much time in foster care will be abused in some manner. Some of these foster homes have up to 12 kids at one time. Imagine a 12 year old girl thrown into a home with teen age boys..

    The recent articles on the removal of children at the border show that kids are damaged for life when removed from their parents. So ANY child removal should only be if there is a real threat of danger. This ‘to error on the side of caution’ is child abuse in itself and causing damage to EVERY CHILD that is put into state custody!

    So while we are outraged over the 2000 kids at the border that have become separated, why does no one care about the 4 million kids that have been separated in our own child welfare system.

    Sadly, our nation’s children have become bounty for money and no one cares….

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