July 15, 2014
Since October, an estimated 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have crossed the U.S. southern border. Many of these children have fled their homeland to escape poverty and gang violence and seek reunification with parents or other family members residing in the U.S. President Obama has asked Congress for funding and additional Department of Health and Human Services resources to deal with this “urgent humanitarian situation.”
As advocates for health and well-being of children and families, the 7,800 members of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) call upon Congress to move beyond the partisan immigration debate to focus first on the physical and mental health, safety, and security needs of these vulnerable children. We urge Congress and federal agencies responsible for managing this crisis to consider the following concerns:
- Many of these children have traveled for days through dangerous terrain without adequate protection, food, or water. Although these children receive adequate initial health care that includes immunizations, testing for tuberculosis infection (TB) and treatment for visible medical conditions, comprehensive pediatric health screenings and care for chronic and acute disease are needed to address urgent physical and mental health needs.
- For more than a century, child development experts have underscored the negative effects that institutional living environments have on children. Institutional environments are highly stressful for children and do not provide the social-emotional support and security children need. Research has shown that overcrowded, institutional environments heighten children’s risk of physical, mental or sexual abuse. Every effort should be made to ensure children’s safety while in shelter residence and minimize the time, which is currently an average of 35 days, children reside in border shelter facilities.
- Care should be taken during legal immigration proceedings to minimize emotional trauma. Adequate provision of interpreter services and legal representation during immigration proceedings is essential.
- Children are best able to reach their full potential when raised in the context of permanent, loving families. Whenever possible, children should be reunited with family members.
The members of NAPNAP urge state and federal leaders to respond swiftly and compassionately to the health and emotional security needs of these vulnerable children and provide them just due process. Pediatric nurse practitioners stand ready to assist state and federal authorities in whatever ways possible to ensure the children’s health, safety and well-being.