At some shelters along the Texas-Mexico borders, a friendly environment awaits children ripped away from their parents. Despite areas filled with toys, books, crayons and beds, there’s little that shelter workers can do to console the devastated children. And the trauma these children experience will have long-term ramifications, according to leading health professionals.

When Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited one such shelter in Texas, she got to see firsthand what the “zero tolerance” policy looks like in action. 

Under this policy, parents who cross the border illegally and charged with a criminal offense and detained in federal jails. Their children, meanwhile, are taken away and placed in shelters throughout Texas. 

Kraft recalls the image of a 2-year old girl, screaming and crying, pounding her little fists on a mat. A social worker offering her toys and books, all of which do nothing to console the child. She has no mother now.

Kraft quickly noted that shelter workers were doing their best to take care of the children. However, they’re not allowed to touch the children or pick them up. 

As Kraft noted, “The really basic, foundational needs of having trust in adults as a young child was not being met. That contradicts everything we know that the kids need to build their health.”

University of Minnesota child psychologist, Megan Gunnar, has also weighed in saying, “While not all of the children we are ripping from their parents will suffer the full consequences of toxic stress, many may.”

And joining Kraft and Gunnar, over 7,600 mental health professionals have signed a petition, demanding that separating children from their parents must end.

The petition reads, “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experiences embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.”

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