Separating immigrant children from their parents is child abuse

Separating immigrant children from their parents is child abuse
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Like so many, we as pediatricians continue to be horrified and heartbroken by headlines of children separated from their families. While it seems impossible to keep up with policy statements and revisions that confuse and distract, one thing remains clear: Innocent children have been stripped senselessly from their parents, and the path to end this inhumanity remains tragically unclear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to support all children and has issued a strong statement in opposition of the injustice that has and continues to occur. AAP leadership states that “Detention of children is not a solution to the forced separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border...The AAP urges the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to immediately end the policy of family separation. Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians — protecting and promoting children’s health.


This sentiment cannot be reiterated strongly enough: Pediatricians stand unanimously in support of all children, and oppose any and all practices that result in the separation of families.


We know that the the trauma suffered from separation from one's parents is the greatest, longest lasting stressor possible for a child of any age. In fact, removing children from their parents, even into temporary custody, is considered so damaging that it is always viewed as a last resort even in cases of suspected abuse or neglect.

Furthermore, the psychological damage suffered from this toxic stress has been shown to have serious and long-lasting effects. In recent studies, data from tens of thousands of individuals revealed that exposure to adverse childhood events greatly increases the risk for long-term physical, mental and behavioral issues.

Pediatricians see this daily in our practice-children whose parents have passed away, who have had parents deported or incarcerated, or who have even had temporary separation from their parental support all face a devastating series of often permanent emotional and even physical impairments.

The reality of what these children go through, which we see daily in our hospitals and offices, is truly heartbreaking. While we work tirelessly to mitigate this trauma to the best of our abilities, we wish deeply that we could have done something to prevent this, and wonder how we can prevent this suffering for other children.

The federal government recognizes that children must be protected from physical and psychological harm and already has a framework provided by legislation to define what constitutes abuse towards children. 

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

A lengthy debate on how geographic place of birth relates to citizenship is not needed to recognize that the current implementation of immigration policy lacks any grounding in basic humanistic standards.

In our current system, all health-care workers are considered mandated reporters and are required by law to report all suspected and confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect.

As a pediatrician, I write this to urge all fellow physicians and health-care workers to officially report the abuse of immigrant children at the border and demand the immediate reunification of all families. And as a mother, I implore all citizens to see beyond partisan lines and understand the simplicity of this issue: we cannot tolerate the abuse of innocent children.

Rebekah Diamond, MD, is a physician in pediatrics. She has written for the Slate, The Washington Examiner and The Detroit Free Press.