AAP renews call for an end to family separation at the border
MelissaJenco, News Content Editor
The Academy is renewing its call for an end to family separation at the southern border
following a new report showing thousands more children were separated than previously
“Children didn’t ask to be born in a country where they had to flee because of violence
and fear,” said AAP Immediate Past President Colleen A. Kraft, M.D., M.B.A., FAAP.
“We need to treat children with compassion and respect. This means not separating
them from their parents. This means not keeping them in detention. This means having
pediatric guidance and medical professionals to care for them when they are in United
“HHS officials estimate thousands of other children were separated, referred to HHS
for care and released from HHS care prior to the June court order,” Ann Maxwell, OIG
assistant inspector general for evaluation and inspections, said Thursday.
However, she said HHS does not have an exact count because it lacks a formal tracking
The news was not surprising to Dr. Kraft, who visited the border in April 2018 after
hearing from local pediatricians that children were being separated from their parents.
She saw firsthand the toll of children living in shelters and not knowing when they’d
see their parents again. Those experiences can cause toxic stress, which damages developing
brains and leads to both short- and long-term health impacts, she said. In recent
months, two children died while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. The
AAP has called for pediatric medical experts to have access to the facilities and
repeatedly offered its assistance.
“Children have unique medical and mental health needs and care under the guidance
of a pediatric professional is important,” Dr. Kraft said. “First and foremost, their
security needs — being with a parent or a loving, trusted adult — is foundational
to their physical and mental health.”
Since the June 2018 court order, at least 118 additional children have been separated
from their parents at the border, but data on the reasons for the separations are
limited. HHS officials say they have improved their system for tracking these children,
but Maxwell was cautious in her assessment.
“At this point, it is not yet clear whether these changes will be sufficient to ensure
accurate data about separated children,” she said.
Dr. Kraft called for the children to be reunited with their parents and offered trauma-informed
care. Families seeking asylum should be able to stay in a community-based setting
instead of detention, she said.
The OIG plans to release additional reports this year on efforts to reunify families,
ORR facilities’ screening of employees, security, responses to incidents in which
children have been harmed, and its ability to meet children’s health needs.