Inside a ‘Tender Age’ Facility Where Immigrant Children Separated From Their Families Were Kept

Representatives and citizens from both sides of the political spectrum stood as one against the United States government’s decision to separate asylum-seeking immigrants from their children at the border. Their collective words and actions worked.

President Trump has since signed an executive order demanding families no longer face unnecessary separation when attempting to enter the country. But many health experts argue that the damage has already been done.

The trauma thousands of young children might have faced could stay with them for a lifetime.

Donald Trump clapping

Donald Trump | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to American Academy of Pediatrics president Colleen Kraft — and the doctor who called her after a worrying visit to a facility holding immigrant children — we now have a glimpse of what some of these “tender age” centers were really like.

At first, Kraft noted that the facility seemed “homey.” There were no signs of cages. Very few audible signs of distress. And that may have been the most concerning part.

She first noticed what one doctor had warned her about when she entered a room full of toddlers, who should have been running, playing, and talking — but weren’t.

“What was really striking about the place, it was a room full of toddlers [and if you’ve ever been in a room full of toddlers you’d know] they’re active, they’re loud and they’re playing and they’re rambunctious,” she said. “This room, all of the children except for one were very quiet.”

She said all kids but one played silently. A little girl around two years old who was “inconsolable.”

It’s basically instinct — especially for employees of a facility dedicated to caring for small children — to comfort a child with a cuddle, a hug, or even a shoulder squeeze. None of these kids got any of those things, and not because employees didn’t want to help them feel safe.

Border patrol at US-Mexico border

Border patrol at US-Mexico border | John Moore/Getty Images

The facility apparently told workers they couldn’t pick up or even hug children who needed comfort. They could offer them books or toys — but they weren’t allowed to touch them. One employee said she would have comforted the distraught child if she’d been permitted to do so.

Kraft said the facility’s “policy” could have damaging effects on the kids forced to stay there.

“Here you have a bunch of quiet little toddlers and one inconsolable crying toddler who couldn’t be helped… we knew that none of us could help these kids because they didn’t have what they needed which was their mother. They were traumatized.”

Kraft visited the facility because a concerned pediatrician notified her of the trauma they believed these kids were wrongfully enduring.

She explained that stressful situations like these can negatively impact a child’s brain development. “The pathways that develop, that lay the foundation for speech for social-emotional development … are happening during this young time … this prolonged stress or what we call exposure to toxic stress, it disrupts the developing brain.”

Though children will no longer need to fear being separated from their loved ones, and many could be reunited with their families, it could take awhile — if it happens at all.

Trauma, especially very early on, doesn’t just go away with a signature. Thousands of children’s lives are changed forever — and not necessarily for the better.

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