These children did not get to the border on their own. They are entirely innocent by any standard. But the trauma of forced separation from one's loving family and its lifelong consequences are hard to overstate. The biological impacts are scientifically irrefutable. Toxic stress and trauma quite literally "get under the skin." They alter brain circuitry and functioning, as well as the way that genes work, through a process known as "epigenetic methylation" that can turn genes on and off. Researchers have only begun to document the many ways that these changes to gene function can wreak havoc on the developing child, including even fetuses. But what we already knowis striking.
We now know that both brains and genes "listen" to their social environment, and the message of this policy's enactment is clear.
The world is dangerous and won't support you. The core impacts of trauma and toxic stress include the disruption of their stress system, leading to lifelong behavioral problems, cognitive difficulties, chronic inflammation, impaired health, and even early death. Their attachment system will also be damaged, leading to persistent difficulties in making and sustaining successful relationships.
In brief, toxic stress and trauma inflict long-lasting physical and mental damage. When parent-child separations are legally required in other contexts, such as demonstrated or suspected abuse or neglect, extreme provisions are required to balance the harm versus the necessity of removal, typically including legal representatives and court-appointed guardians for the child. No such provisions are even contemplated for these brutal, policy-driven, involuntary family separations at the border.
And even with the executive order, there is no guarantee that all families will remain together. While signing the order on Wednesday, Trump saidfamilies would be detained together "where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources."
Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has quite accurately identified this policy as "government-sanctioned child abuse." But it's even worse than that. The avoidable infliction of long-lasting physical or mental harm by any state actor in order to obtain a policy goal, such as information or coercion, is a clear definition of torture under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The fact that it is being inflicted on a third party -- innocent children -- leaves a dark and growing stain on our country. As if that weren't sufficiently damning, it is also clear that this practice goes directly against the core of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which mandates that state actors make every effort to protect children from harm and support their nurturance to the best of their abilities in developmentally appropriate ways. The US government is not only failing to protect children, it is actively torturing them to achieve a policy goal.