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First, Do No Harm: A call to end the traumatizing separation of immigrant children from their parents

 A government detention facility in McAllen, Texas. (Photo By US Government - U.S. Customs and Border Control, Public Domain, Link)
A government detention facility in McAllen, Texas. (Photo By US Government - U.S. Customs and Border Control, Public Domain, Link)

In the following statement, the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control – part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – call on the Trump administration to end its policy of separating migrant children from their family members, with whom they have sought asylum, refuge or entrance to the United States at the southern border. The signers include John Allegrante, Professor of Health Education.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is dedicated to preventing injuries and violence in the United States. The NCIPC’s mission is “to prevent injuries and violence through science and action.” The vision extends to “everyone, everywhere, every day” in the United States.

“The United States government is intentionally manufacturing ‘ACEs’ [adverse childhood experiences] for children, separating them from the family members who provide the love, stability and protection that young children need.”

One of the NCIPC’s priority areas is “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs. The research on ACEs is overwhelming. When children experience traumatic events in childhood, including “verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as family dysfunction (e.g., an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member; domestic violence; or absence of a parent because of divorce or separation)” they have significantly worse health, social and well-being outcomes in adulthood. These negative outcomes are far-ranging and intense and include depression, suicide, heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted infections, and premature mortality, among other outcomes.

Unfortunately, the federal government, in a policy change, is now separating migrant children from their family members with whom they have sought asylum, refuge or entrance to the United States at the southern border. The United States government is intentionally manufacturing “ACEs” for children, separating them from the family members who provide the love, stability and protection that young children need. The responses of children separated from parents have been documented and made public recently; such peri-traumatic responses include emotional distress, such as persistent crying or sobbing, repeated calls for parents, and dissociation. These children are being held in conditions that may cause further trauma and leaves them vulnerable to sexual and physical violence and further psychological abuse. Several medical and public health organizations have called for the end of this policy, including the American Medical Association and American Public Health Association, clearly identifying it as a human rights violation.

As violence and injury prevention experts, it is our duty to identify and advocate policies and actions that prevent trauma and violence to all. Therefore, we, the undersigned members of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the NCIPC, as citizens and experts, call upon the current administration, specifically United States Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II, to end the policy that separates children from their parents at the border, immediately. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the academic institutions, professional associations, or non-governmental agencies with which the authors are affiliated.

 

Victoria Frye, MPH, DrPH
Associate Medical Professor
CUNY School of Medicine
New York, NY

John Allegrante, PhD
Professor
Teachers College
Columbia University
New York, NY

R. Dawn Comstock, PhD
Professor
Colorado School of Public Health
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Denver, CO

Kermit Crawford, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Boston University School of Medicine

Deborah Daro PhD
Senior Research Fellow
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Jim Hedlund, PhD
Highway Safety North
Ithaca, New York

Christina Porucznik, PhD MSPH
Associate Professor
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT

David C. Schwebel, PhD
University Professor of Psychology
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL 

Jay Silverman, PhD
Professor of Medicine
University of California San Diego School of Medicine
San Diego, CA

Daniel Whitaker, PhD
Professor
Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

Published Monday, Jun 25, 2018

 A government detention facility in McAllen, Texas. (Photo By US Government - U.S. Customs and Border Control, Public Domain, Link)
A government detention facility in McAllen, Texas. (Photo By US Government - U.S. Customs and Border Control, Public Domain, Link)

In the following statement, the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control – part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – call on the Trump administration to end its policy of separating migrant children from their family members, with whom they have sought asylum, refuge or entrance to the United States at the southern border. The signers include John Allegrante, Professor of Health Education.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is dedicated to preventing injuries and violence in the United States. The NCIPC’s mission is “to prevent injuries and violence through science and action.” The vision extends to “everyone, everywhere, every day” in the United States.

“The United States government is intentionally manufacturing ‘ACEs’ [adverse childhood experiences] for children, separating them from the family members who provide the love, stability and protection that young children need.”

One of the NCIPC’s priority areas is “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs. The research on ACEs is overwhelming. When children experience traumatic events in childhood, including “verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as family dysfunction (e.g., an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member; domestic violence; or absence of a parent because of divorce or separation)” they have significantly worse health, social and well-being outcomes in adulthood. These negative outcomes are far-ranging and intense and include depression, suicide, heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted infections, and premature mortality, among other outcomes.

Unfortunately, the federal government, in a policy change, is now separating migrant children from their family members with whom they have sought asylum, refuge or entrance to the United States at the southern border. The United States government is intentionally manufacturing “ACEs” for children, separating them from the family members who provide the love, stability and protection that young children need. The responses of children separated from parents have been documented and made public recently; such peri-traumatic responses include emotional distress, such as persistent crying or sobbing, repeated calls for parents, and dissociation. These children are being held in conditions that may cause further trauma and leaves them vulnerable to sexual and physical violence and further psychological abuse. Several medical and public health organizations have called for the end of this policy, including the American Medical Association and American Public Health Association, clearly identifying it as a human rights violation.

As violence and injury prevention experts, it is our duty to identify and advocate policies and actions that prevent trauma and violence to all. Therefore, we, the undersigned members of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the NCIPC, as citizens and experts, call upon the current administration, specifically United States Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II, to end the policy that separates children from their parents at the border, immediately. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the academic institutions, professional associations, or non-governmental agencies with which the authors are affiliated.

 

Victoria Frye, MPH, DrPH
Associate Medical Professor
CUNY School of Medicine
New York, NY

John Allegrante, PhD
Professor
Teachers College
Columbia University
New York, NY

R. Dawn Comstock, PhD
Professor
Colorado School of Public Health
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Denver, CO

Kermit Crawford, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Boston University School of Medicine

Deborah Daro PhD
Senior Research Fellow
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Jim Hedlund, PhD
Highway Safety North
Ithaca, New York

Christina Porucznik, PhD MSPH
Associate Professor
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT

David C. Schwebel, PhD
University Professor of Psychology
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL 

Jay Silverman, PhD
Professor of Medicine
University of California San Diego School of Medicine
San Diego, CA

Daniel Whitaker, PhD
Professor
Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

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