The following is a letter from Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She can be reached via Twitter @AAPPres.
Dear AAP Member:
As I shared in my recent letter in AAP News, I have always been proud to be an AAP member. But, when I reflect on the past month, I have never felt prouder than when so many of you came together to help protect immigrant child health.
Thank you to everyone who spoke out against the separation of children and parents, giving these vulnerable families a voice. It is clear that our messages were heard, but our work is not over.
Late last month, I had the opportunity to visit the southern border of the U.S. with the President and CEO of UNICEF USA Caryl Stern. Together, we witnessed the ongoing issues facing immigrant children and families and shared several of these first-hand accounts in this video. These stories will stay with me forever and serve as a constant reminder of why we must continue to advocate for these families.
While we were in Texas, a U.S. district court ordered the federal government to reunite children who had been separated from their parents, and our organizations issued this press release commending the action. The order required that children be reunited with their parents within 30 days and children under age 5 within 14 days.
Today marks the 30-day deadline, however, many children remain unnecessarily separated from their families.
We also know that the government is seeking to hold many reunited families in family detention. This is not a solution for family separation. The AAP’s 2017 policy statement outlines that no child should be placed in detention, and that even short periods of detention can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health risks.
In addition, recent reports have raised troubling questions about the quality of care and treatment families are receiving in the federal government’s custody. This week, AAP led several medical and mental health provider organizations in urging leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to investigate the issue.
This remains a child health issue, and we will continue to speak out until we see policies and proposals that support the health and well-being of immigrant children and families. Please consider contacting your members of Congress on the AAP’s federal advocacy website and urge them to oppose family separation and detention, as well as any effort to rollback special protections for children.
As child health experts, we know that children fare best in supportive families, and we understand the toxic stress caused by separation and the harms to short- and long-term health associated with detention. We will continue to analyze every policy proposal, using the Academy’s established policies on immigrant child health to guide our response.
If you have the opportunity to serve immigrant children and families in your practice, the AAP Immigrant Child Health Toolkit, created by the Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, contains practical information and resources for pediatricians to address common matters related to immigrant child health. The needs of these children and countless others will be ongoing. Please stay tuned for potential future opportunities to engage in support of the care and treatment of immigrant children.
Thank you again for everything you have done and continue to do on behalf of immigrant children and families. I am honored to stand alongside AAP members like you in these efforts.
Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP
President, American Academy of Pediatrics