The Massachusetts Nurses Association Board of Directors – 25 front-line nurses and health care professionals elected by their colleagues – has voted on Thursday, June 21 to issue the following statement regarding the promised end of the U.S. Government policy separating children from their families at the border and its ongoing devastating consequences.
“The Massachusetts Nurses Association Board of Directors has voted to urge the U.S. Government to swiftly and humanely reunite children with their families after cruelly being separated upon crossing the southern border. This policy was unnecessary and egregious. Removing children from their primary caregivers because families are seeking a better life has been an immoral stain on our nation. These actions have imperiled the health and well-being of thousands of children and will continue to do so unless children are immediately returned to their caregivers and treated with compassion.
“To be clear, these child separations were not required and were a new policy of the Trump Administration. Previous administrations apprehended people at the border and detained them awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge. Current U.S. officials decided to criminally prosecute all adults who crossed the border, sending them to federal jail and locking their children in cages. These separations have already had devastating consequences. News reports have shown children sitting in barren cages, crying inconsolably. Their caregivers were forcibly stripped from them and have no idea how or if they will be reunited with their children. These children – including a baby whose mother told Texas civil rights lawyers she was breastfeeding – have no idea if they will see their loved ones again. Their cries pierce our hearts.
“The Trump Administration reported on June 19 that 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 parents between May 5 and June 9. President Trump signed an executive order promising to end the separations on June 20. However, widespread news reports indicate the order leaves unanswered the questions of how or if families will be reunited and whether they will then be indefinitely detained due to the administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.
“As nurses and health care professionals, we are pained by the profound psychological and physiological impact of these separations. The kind of trauma these children are experiencing can be identified as “toxic stress response.” The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University describes “toxic stress response” as occurring “when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity … without adequate adult support.” The center goes on to detail the effects of this stress on a child’s development: “This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.”
“The sudden loss of a parent or other primary caregiver can reverberate through a person’s entire life, negatively affecting their health, their families and our society. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being, documented these affects. More than 17,000 patients were studied in the 1990s, showing that traumatic experiences in childhood lead to increased risk for addiction, depression, heart disease, diabetes, financial stress, domestic violence, suicide and other negative outcomes.
“These forced family separations will only add to the overwhelming societal cost of childhood trauma. The U.S. annual cost of child abuse and neglect is an estimated $103.8 billion, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. According to the NCTSN, the estimated cost of childhood trauma includes mental health care, child welfare systems, law enforcement, special education, juvenile delinquency and lost productivity.
“Health care professionals in Massachusetts are required by law to report suspected child abuse. What we have heard and seen happening at the southern U.S. border has been widespread, government-imposed child abuse. We have dedicated ourselves to ensuring the safety of our patients. That dedication does not stop at the door of a hospital or at the end of a shift. We are caregivers in all aspects of our lives. We are also human beings. We feel the agony of parents who have been separated from their children. We know the bottomless ache of children who cry but cannot feel the comfort of their loved ones. We call on the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, all relevant federal agencies, the U.S. Courts and U.S. Congress to act immediately in a rational and humane way to reunite these families and address this crisis.”