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01.12.2018 | Commentary | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Medicine 1/2018

Childhood trauma and the enduring consequences of forcibly separating children from parents at the United States border

BMC Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2018
Martin H. Teicher


Forcible separation and detention of children from parents seeking asylum in the United States has been decried as immoral and halted by court order. Babies and children have been separated and transported to facilities sometimes many miles away. Limited data on forced detention of unaccompanied minors reveal high incidence of posttraumatic stress, anxiety disorders, depression, aggression, and suicidal ideation. These consequences will be magnified in youths forcibly separated from their parents, particularly younger children who depend on attachment bonds for self-regulation and resilience. Studies exploring the neuropsychiatric consequences of traumatic stress have revealed consistent effects of early life stress on brain structure, function and connectivity, and the identification of sensitive periods, which occur throughout childhood when specific regions and pathways are strongly influenced by adversity. Studies of epigenetics, inflammation and allostatic load are similarly enhancing our awareness of the molecular mechanisms underpinning the long-term consequences of traumatic stress. We must consider effects on the developing brain, mind and body to appreciate the long-term consequences of policies that force separation and detention of children.
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