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Representatives of Two Medical School Departments Advocate for Detained Migrant Children

July 16, 2019
by Riley Davis

The Yale Child Study Center, the Department of Pediatrics, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee team at the Unitarian Society of New Haven co-hosted a rally and candlelight vigil on July 12 to protest the conditions migrants are facing at the U.S. - Mexico border. The rally, at the Hamden Memorial Town Hall, was one of more than 800 “Lights for Liberty” events held worldwide.

Several Yale clinicians and local community members shared their personal feelings on the physical and psychological consequences of separating children from their parents, and of detaining them in poor conditions.

“I am a mother and a pediatrician,” Marietta Vazquez, MD, associate professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases and general pediatrics), told the crowd. “I know children, and I can tell you that there is no detention that is safe or correct for children.”

Vazquez described a patient she recently treated at the Yale New Haven Hospital, a two-year-old girl who had crossed the border with her mother and fallen seriously ill while she was detained. “I wish I had been there,” Vazquez said. “I wish she’d had the medical care she needed. But she didn’t, because she was in a detention center.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) spoke early in the evening about his experience visiting detained migrant children in a border facility. “There were children living under conditions that are in fact a threat to their psychological wellbeing, without the kind of facilities that you would consider a bare minimum,” he said. “We should be standing up for those children, and for their families, not ripping them apart.”

Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz also attended the event, thanking the crowd for standing up on behalf of immigrant families.

This is the first event of its kind that the Yale Child Study Center and the Department of Pediatrics have hosted, says Amanda Dettmer, PhD, associate research scientist at the Yale Child Study Center. Dettmer, who organized the event, and offered suggestions on what people of like mind can do, says the two departments “have a vested interest in the combined physical, mental and behavioral health of children.”

“Physical and mental health are inextricably linked,” Dettmer says. “With the abhorrent conditions at the border that these children are facing, they are not only receiving suboptimal physical care, but it is creating trauma for them that may have lifelong impacts on their behavioral and mental health.”

That trauma can manifest in prolonged behavioral changes that last far past the time a child is detained, says Megan Goslin, PhD, associate research scientist at the Yale Child Study Center, who spoke at the event.

“Babies and toddlers need an adult who is uniquely bonded to them and responding to their cues in a timely and sensitive way,” Goslin says. “When children don’t have that, it can affect their brain. We know there can be profound implications in terms of the ability to self-regulate things like attention, emotion, and behaviors.”

She adds that denying dedicated care has stripped those bonds away.

“The most important medicine for kids is their caregivers,” she says. “Expecting them to survive through these incarceration settings without that most important medicine … kids are not up to that task.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on July 16, 2019