Chicken Pox, Lice, Influenza, Scabies: “Migrant Children Need Continuous Care”

migrant children at a UNICEF temporary rest tent in Ecuador, near the border with Colombia. UNICEF Ecuador, CC BY 2.0

Scientific American

| By Jim Daley on July 26, 2019

| Less than a month after opening a new detention facility in Carrizo Springs, TX for migrant children who have crossed the border without a parent or legal guardian, the Department of Health and Human Services now says it has released all of the children to sponsors (usually family members, according to the agency’s Web site) or moved them to other facilities in HHS’ network.

The center, which was operated by a nonprofit contractor for HHS called BCFS Health and Human Services, was shown to be clean and spacious during a press tour earlier this month—in contrast with the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in which children have been held by Customs and Border Protection.

But experts say that as the children are shuttled from facilities such as Carrizo Springs to sponsors, some may not be getting the continuous pediatric medical care they need.

Federal law and court orders require that within 72 hours of taking unaccompanied children into custody, CBP turn them over to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or one of its contractors until a sponsor can be located.

A BCFS spokesperson says the Carrizo Springs facility held a little more than 200 children as of the week of July 8. And the number held by CBP has dropped dramatically after peaking at more than 11,000 in May.

Pediatricians who have treated migrant children and seen the conditions they have endured in U.S. custody, however, say additional measures are needed to ensure no lingering medical problems—which could include communicable diseases such as influenza and stress-related mental health issues—persist from the children’s time in detention.

“The rights of the child and their health and health care really need to be thought about as separate from the legal process that’s unfolding,” says Elizabeth Barnert, a pediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the effects of juvenile incarceration on children’s health.

She says health care processes should be consistent across the various facilities in which children have been held.

“While it’s great that the children are being released [to sponsors], you do worry when things have happened hastily,” she says …

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of chicken pox, influenza, scabies and lice have been reported among migrant children at border facilities. Pneumonia has been found among migrant children in shelters, and tuberculosis cases have been identified … Read more.