Taking kids from parents at the border could affect development, experts say

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The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics getting into the immigration controversy, calling the separation of children from their parents at the border "child abuse."

Children’s mental health experts say the emotional harm kids experience in such situations will have a long-term effect on their brain development. The toxic stress of being torn from stability disrupts brain architecture, which can hamper language, social-emotional bonds and gross motor skills.

“If it’s under this level of uncertainly or unpredictability, the potential for psychological impact is much, much greater,” Lurie Children’s psychiatrist Dr. John Walkup said.

And while there are recordings of children crying, many children are silent in the detention centers when the constants in their life disappear.

“You are talking about taking away the fundamental foundation of kids’ psychological well-being when they are disconnected from their parents,” Dr. Walkup said.

The ultimate effect on immigrant children at the border will depend on the child. Some kids are really resilient, Walkup said. They'll likely never forget it, but could be able to recover if they are reunited with their parents and able to achieve some sort of normalcy.

"On the other hand, if this is a kid who is vulnerable to begin with or has been through previous kind of traumatic experiences, this could be the kind of thing that would really be the kind of trajectory changer for their longer-term development," Dr. Walkup said.

It's not just separation, as many children are arriving alone at the border. Doctors say these children need proper evaluation and support services to prevent further trauma.

"I would be thinking about enforcing the law in such a way that keeps the human beings well-being front and center of that whole process," Dr. Walkup said.

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