How cumulative trauma may affect migrant children

On June 20, President Trump issued an executive order rolling back the separations of undocumented immigrant families at the southern border in favor of family detention. However, despite claims that more than 500 children have been reunited with their families since the order was issued, thousands remain detained separately or in foster care, and reestablishing communication between children and their parents has proven very difficult in some cases.


For the children, some only a few months old, the consequences extend far past a question of asylum or citizenship, as physicians and researchers across disciplines have noted that the cumulative childhood trauma and chronic stress associated with these separations can cause potentially irreparable lifelong harm and put their mental health and physical development in jeopardy.

“There’s no clear plan of what to do with these children, and because there’s no way for them to know what’s coming next or when – or if – they’ll see their parents again, they are stuck in a state of constant anxiety,” said Steven Berkowitz, director of the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry. “That chronic ‘not knowing’ can take on a life of its own and can be extremely damaging. The longer it goes on, the longer these kids’ stress response systems are elevated, and without intervention, there is a potential for permanent dysregulation.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.