AAP

Mistreatment of Immigrant Children at the Southern Border

It was a little over a year ago when I first heard about the child separations happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. I had recently had my own son and it gave me a visceral feeling of horror imagining someone taking him away from me, not knowing where he was going, when I would see him again, or who would take care of him. I read a story of a 4-month-old taken from his mother as I held my own infant of a similar age. I imagined what kind of fear would drive me to make a dangerous journey with a newborn and beg for safety in a foreign country.  Children continue to be separated from their parents and caregivers. They are kept in conditions unfit for anyone, and especially damaging for children. We need to speak out against the treatment of migrant children that is occurring and demand more humane solutions.

Whether unaccompanied or as part of a family unit, when children present for asylum, they are brought first through a Customs and Border Protection facility where by law, they are not to be detained for more than 72 hours (Linton et al., 2017). However, some children and families are being held for much longer (Linton et al., 2017). There are small, unwashed and underfed children taking care of younger, filthy toddlers without proper sanitation available, like clean diapers (Raff, 2019). Studies have shown negative physical and emotional symptoms among detained children under any circumstance (Linton et al., 2017), then their source of resilience might be stolen away- their caregivers. Even a short time in detention can have damaging psychological effects (Linton et al., 2017). Interviewed parents have described regressive behavior in their children after detention along with increased aggression and self-injurious behavior (Linton et. al 2019). They might come with parents or they may come with extended family members hoping to join their parents already in the U.S. (Linton et al., 2017). In 2016, “Family Case Management” was terminated, a short-lived program that was 99% effective in having these families in court, even by ICE’s own statements (Singer, 2019). The former program cost taxpayers about $38 a day, while the current system costs hundreds per day (Singer, 2019).  

Children are dying. They are dying. They are kept in ‘prison-like conditions’ (Linton et al., 2017) and in the last year, at least 7 children have died in immigration custody after almost a decade of no deaths (Acevedo, 2019). Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who visited a Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen Texas, one of the facilities where immigrants are not to be held for longer than 72 hours. She met a baby whose uncle was forced to feed him for days from an unwashed bottle (Raff, 2019). She met a teenage mom whose baby was wrapped in diapers and plastic because they refused to give her clean clothes for her infant. This facility is known as the hielera, or ice box (Raff, 2019). This mom was trying desperately to keep her baby warm when she had nothing but concrete and mylar blankets (Raff, 2019). Dr. Sevier saw unmistakable signs of mental trauma and illness. The children had not been allowed access to soap, toothbrushes, clean clothes; and many had been in the facility weeks. They smelled, were malnourished, dehydrated, and most had at least a respiratory infection. The baby who had been drinking from a dirty bottle was fevered and ill (Raff, 2019).

Exposure to the ‘prison-like’ conditions present in the immigration facilities causes high levels of stress (Linton et al., 2017). It has been well documented that toxic stress will have lasting effects on the health of these children, even if they manage to somehow get past the mental effects of their trauma. They will be at higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc (Garner et al., 2015). Their present health and their future health are being destroyed in one fell swoop. The recognition and reduction of toxic stress in children should be a priority for all pediatricians (Garner et al., 2015), and should be part of a routine evaluation for the care of immigrant children (Linton et al., 2017).

The American Academy of Pediatrics  issued a policy statement about the detention of immigrant children. The policy outlines many concerns and recommendations including that separating a parent or primary caregiver from their children should never occur unless there is a concern for the safety of the child (Linton et al., 2017). Practices in the CBP processing centers are inconsistent with AAP recommendations for the care of children, and therefore children should not be subjected to them. Community-based case management should be implemented for the children and their families (Linton et al., 2017). Children should receive timely and comprehensive medical care.  “Treat all immigrant children and families seeking safe haven who are taken into US immigration custody with dignity and respect to protect their health and well-being” (Linton et al., 2017). 

It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. I urge you to not become complacent. Write your own opinion. Write your congressional representatives. Donate to the Annunciation House, which helps to house some immigrants. You can also give to RACIES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and legal Services) or to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, both of which seek to help immigrants gain asylum and legal status, among other services. I encourage my fellow physicians to look for immigrants among our patients. Recognize the trauma they have been subjected to. Practice trauma-informed care and do your best to refer to services that can help.

Marie Varnet, MD

My son and I protesting the treatment of immigrant children in Dallas, Tx

Acevedo, Nicole. “Why Are Migrant Children Dying in U.S. Custody?” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 30 May 2019, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/why-are-migrant-children-dying-u-s-custody-n1010316.

Garner, Andrew S., et al. “Early Childhood Adversity, Toxic Stress, and the Role of the Pediatrician: Translating Developmental Science Into Lifelong Health.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2012, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/1/e224.short.

Linton, Julie M., et al. “Detention of Immigrant Children.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 May 2017, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/5/e20170483#xref-ref-10-1.

Raff, Jeremy. “What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 4 July 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/07/border-patrols-oversight-sick-migrant-children/593224/.

Singer, Audrey. “Immigration: Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Programs.” Congressional Research Service, 2019, fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R45804.pdf.

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Consciously Supporting Concussion Awareness

In recent years, public interest has increased surrounding concussions/mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI). This is due in large part to the recent hypothesis that concussive forces from contact sports may be a risk factor for the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease seen most often in former boxers and professional football players.

Research, legislation, and documentaries have sought to better define the incidence and risks of concussions, its relationship to these 2 diseases, and to increase public awareness of this issue. Currently, legislation is pending in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate that has the potential to further achieve these goals by increasing general awareness about concussions and giving parents and youth the ability to make informed decisions about the sports in which they participate. We as pediatricians can advocate for the safety of our patients by contacting our local representatives and asking them to become cosponsors for the “SAFE PLAY Act” (H.R. 829).

(more…)

It’s Time to Expand Family Medical Leave

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that revolutionized the relationship between the American work force and medical care.  The law grants employees the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work due to the birth of a child or to take care of serious health needs for themselves or their immediate families.  However, FMLA omits much of the American work force and only guarantees unpaid medical leave.  This means that the protection offered by FMLA is unavailable and inadequate for many American families, leaving the health of millions of American children is at risk.  As pediatricians we can advocate for our patients by supporting legislation that expands FMLA. (more…)

Binge Drinking in Adolescents, a Pediatrician’s Role.

Adolescence is a period of limit testing in which children and young adults are at increased risk of substance abuse. The most frequently used substance by adolescents is alcohol.  Adolescents who drink alcohol have an increased rate of binge drinking compared to adults. Adolescent alcohol abuse is associated with an increased risk of chronic alcohol abuse leading to serious illnesses as adults. Also, alcohol use can be associated with the leading causes of death and serious injury in ages 15 to 24 (unintentional injury, homicide, suicide).

The AAP Committee on Substance Abuse recently released a Clinical Report titled Binge Drinking (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/3/e718.full). In the report, binge drinking is defined and characterized, risk factors are discussed, and neurobiology is addressed.  The authors provide screening guidance for pediatricians.   The report explains that at age 9, children start having positive feelings about alcohol and start thinking that alcohol may not be just for adults. This means that ages 9-15 is a critical period for screening and intervention.   The report recommends that pediatricians should screen every patient for alcohol use starting at age 9.

The NIAAA collaborated with the AAP to develop a quick two-question screening tool that varies by the  patient’s age.  The questions focus about asking the patient about their own alcohol usage and their friend’s alcohol usage.

Here is an image summarizing the screening tool:

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.29.54 PM
In addition to screening patients, pediatricians can support the Sober Truth on Preventing (STOP) Underage Drinking Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1717, S. 728).
This bill will reauthorize an act targeted at reducing underage drinking through research, a highly-visible national media campaign, and grants to public health care providers/community organizations/ and partnerships with higher education institutions.
( https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1717?q={%22search%22%3A[%22sober+truth%22]}&resultIndex=1 )

What YOU can do:

  • Educate yourself about alcohol use in adolescents and it’s health effects.
  • Screen every patient starting at age 9 for alcohol use; intervene as necessary.
  • Talk to your patients and their parents about alcohol-related risks.
  • Contact your federal representatives and ask them to co-sponsor and support  the Reauthorization of the STOP Act.

 

Sources and Resources:
AAP Clinical Report, Binge Drinking. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/3/e718.full
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Practitioner/YouthGuide/YouthGuideOrderForm.htm
http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/underage-drinking
http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/Default.aspx
http://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking

https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1717?q=%22search%22%3A%5B%22sober+truth%22%5D&resultIndex=1)

Paul Teran, MD

Child Health and Poverty – A Call to Action

It has been well described that poverty is associated with poor health, starting from time in the womb all the way into adulthood. Poor children have higher rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, food insecurity, and unintentional injuries. They also have a higher incidence and worse severity of chronic diseases such as asthma and obesity. As these children grow older, they are at higher risk of poor educational achievement, teen pregnancy, and inability to escape poverty. Finally, most poor children unfortunately grow into poor adults with higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, depression, substance abuse, and ultimately shorter life expectancy. Lately, a growing body of evidence has shown that toxic stress experienced by developing children fundamentally changes their biology – altering brain development, the immune system, hormones, and metabolism in ways that predispose to illness. As pediatricians, we should understand that addressing the effect of poverty on our patients’ health requires more than seeing families individually in the office. It will require our voices in broader social institutions. (more…)

Protect Our Children from E-Cigarette Purchase and Secondhand Smoke

Electronic or e-cigarettes, also known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or personal vaporizers (PV), are an increasingly popular method of nicotine ingestion. E-cigarette sales are estimated to top $2 billion in 2014. (more…)

AAP supports increased funding for pediatric mental health services

The AAP responds to a request from the Senate Finance Committee regarding our nation’s mental health system.

In the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the Administration and Congress are looking for ways to improve our nation’s mental health system. Exposure to violence causes toxic stress in childhood, which can have long-term negative effects on children. Managing adult mental health disorders begins with ensuring that children have access to quality mental health services. (more…)

AAP Opposes Cuts to Food Stamps

A proposed reduction of 8.6 million dollars in the budget for The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, has already been approved in the House and is moving on to the Senate. See quote below from the AAP president Dr. James Perrin.

“Pediatricians witness the effects of childhood hunger firsthand: hungry children are less likely to be healthy and are more likely to suffer developmental delays, have behavioral problems and have difficulties focusing in school. At a time when more than one in five U.S. children lives in poverty, the Farm Bill’s cuts to this program exacerbate the effects of child hunger and disproportionately hurt children. In fact, 850,000 households across the country will now receive $90 less of SNAP benefits each month. To a family already living in poverty, these cuts will mean fewer meals and contribute to more anxiety about where the next meal will come from. No child should be hungry in this country. Parents should not be left wondering how to feed their families at the end of each month.”

– James Perrin, MD, FAAP

– See more at AAP Federal Policy

– Learn about ways to help Dallas families dealing with food insecurity at The North Texas Food Bank

By Katie Maddox, MD