Children who are separated from their parents can suffer from anxiety, nightmares, behavioral problems, and the inability to cope, San Diego child psychology experts said Tuesday.
Since the Trump administration began enforcing their zero-tolerance border policy six weeks ago, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally.
"There are few events that could be as traumatic for a child at any age than the abrupt separation from a parent,” said Dr. Moises Baron, Ph.D. president and CEO of the San Diego Center for Children in Linda Vista.
Child migrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained, under U.S. law. Those children are placed in shelters or foster homes while they wait to reunited with a relative or a sponsor.
The medical staff at the center are some of the most experienced in child psychology in San Diego County.
They deal with the effects of family separation every day in cases of abused and foster children, and they say what is happening to these migrant children now, could affect them the rest of their lives.
Those challenges can include anxiety, nightmares, behavioral problems, and the inability to learn and cope properly.
"The psychological consequences of the separation might not be visible like a physical injury, but you have to think about it like that,” said Cheryl Rode, Ph.D., Vice President of Clinical Operations at the center.
"The personal costs, the professional costs, the societal costs, are enormous. So as a professional in this field in child development, I don't understand how this can be happening."
They say one of the most traumatic experiences children can face, no matter what kind of home situation they came from, is being separated from their parents.
The San Diego Center for Children might be treating some of these migrant children if they end up on the welfare system - and they say rehabilitation could take years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and more than 7,500 mental health professionals have signed statements against the administration’s policy.