Advocating for Children Separated From Families at Our Southern Border

June 3, 2018 | Featured Articles

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By Permission of the American Academy of Pediatrics: A Message to its Membership (June 2018)

Dear AAP Member:

Many media outlets are now reporting about children being separated from families as routine government practice at the southern border of the U.S. This policy contradicts everything we know about promoting and protecting children’s health.

Our 2017 policy statement, “Detention of Immigrant Children,” urges that separation of a parent or primary caregiver from his or her children should never occur, unless there are concerns for the safety of the child at the hand of the parent. The Academy’s position opposing family separation stems from the serious health consequences that this practice has on children.

As AAP president, I visited the border recently with other pediatricians and saw firsthand the devastating impact that family separation has on children. One image will last with me forever. A toddler girl I met at a shelter for unaccompanied children was crying uncontrollably; her face was bright red. She was inconsolable and wanted her mother who was separated from her when they crossed the border together. She needed the warm touch of her mother’s hand or her soothing voice. I felt helpless.  

I shared this story in an op-ed I published in the Los Angeles Times after the visit. 

In early 2017 when a policy of separation was being contemplated, AAP spoke out and the policy was abandoned. In December when the policy was once again floated, the AAP was on-the-record, strongly opposing the practice for its detrimental health impacts on children. In fact, we wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) numerous times expressing our opposition and urging the agency to end the practice immediately. 

Our advocacy has not wavered since then. When the policy was formalized in early May, we immediately spoke out, and we continue to pursue a multi-faceted advocacy strategy to give these vulnerable children and families a voice. 

This is a child health issue. When children are separated from their parents, it can cause irreparable harm to their health. Highly stressful experiences, such as family separation, can disrupt the building of children’s brain architecture. Prolonged exposure to serious stress – toxic stress – can harm the developing brain and harm short- and long-term health.  Family separation robs children of the buffer that a parent or caregiver provides against toxic stress. 

The AAP’s position has been amplified across state and national media outlets, and individual pediatricians have written in their local newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle and Winston-Salem Journal just this week. Members of Congress have also referenced AAP’s position when affirming their own opposition to separation. Many of you joined our Day of Action to Protect Families days before the practice became policy.  

Recently, the AAP was one of 540 organizations to send a letter to DHS, calling for the agency to end the policy immediately. 

Your voice is critical to our efforts opposing family separation. Please consider contacting your members of Congress and telling them to urge DHS to end the separation of children and parents immediately. To email your federal legislators with this message, please visit the AAP’s federal advocacy website.

I want to thank you for the calls and emails you have sent. Please know I share your outrage and that as child health experts, we will continue to oppose family separation and other threats to child health at every turn.  


Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP
President, American Academy of Pediatrics


Dr. Craft and her colleagues have continued to advocate and speak out on this issue tirelessly over the last several weeks and will continue to do so until this heinous process is ended.