Deplorable conditions in detention facilities holding children at the U.S. border have lasting consequences

Written by: Sarah Barnes
Date Posted: July 12, 2019

Every child who comes into the custody of our government should be guaranteed the protection and services necessary to ensure their safety, well-being, and development—and to mitigate the stress and trauma of being held in detention. A recent report from The Brookings Institution highlights the impacts of a number of unsanitary and unsafe conditions occurring in detention facilities at the U.S. border on the development of children.

The Brookings report finds that a lack of soap for children in these facilities results in unsanitary conditions and disease, and these contribute not only to infections and illness, but also to poor mental and social-emotional health and well-being. Leaving lights on all night in detention facilities disrupts sleep patterns, which impacts brain development. Keeping children in cells and not allowing them time and a place to play outdoors and exercise also impacts brain development and mental well-being. Insufficient amounts of nutritious food hurts physical health and development of children, and it also drives negative cognitive and social-emotional outcomes for children.

These conditions have been documented in detention facilities where children are being held, despite a long-standing legal settlement that dictates under what conditions children who cross the U.S. border may be held in custody. Congress recently passed an emergency funding package to address the deplorable conditions under which children are being detained at the U.S. border, but it does not go far enough.

We have previously written (here, here, here, and here) about the horrific practices by the Trump administration of separating children from their families at the U.S. borders, and of holding children, either separately or with their parents, in detention facilities.

We have also written about the significant and long-lasting negative impacts on children and their parents of being held in detention. We know that holding children in detention, even with their parents, has significant and long-lasting consequences for the safety, health, development and well-being of children. Parents and caregivers who are detained experience stress and trauma that prevents them from being able to care for their children and mitigate the stress and trauma that their children are experiencing in detention.

Sarah Barnes

About Sarah Barnes

Sarah serves as the Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign in September 2014, Sarah taught middle school English and worked as an Interventionist at Pioneer Charter School in Denver. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member. Prior to teaching, Sarah worked as an attorney in Denver in the areas of venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, general corporate and business law, and commercial transactions. Sarah earned a BA in English from Midland University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan.