Detained migrant children who have been separated from their families and living in poor conditions at U.S. Border Patrol facilities are at risk from facing traumatic physical and mental health impacts, according to medical experts at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

 Physical Health Risks

“Children facing toxic stress are more susceptible to infectious diseases and chronic illnesses of the digestive and respiratory systems, both in the short and long-term. They can also have developmental delays which can be persistent,” said Dr. Kimberly Dunsmore, a nationally recognized expert in pediatric hematology and oncology at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and chair of pediatrics at the Carilion Clinic.

“We know that having multiple adverse childhood events (ACE) puts adults at risk for an increase in heart disease and some cancers as well as having a higher unemployment rate and higher suicide risk.”

“In addition to coping with PTSD and anxiety, young children who are separated from their families may develop detachment syndrome that makes it difficult for them to re-attach to their parents,” says Dunsmore. “Families have also reported decreased eating, sleeping disorders and self-injurious and aggressive behaviors upon return to the family.” 

Dunsmore’s areas of research and interest include clinical trial development for T-cell leukemia and child health care policy and innovative healthcare delivery. Read her full bio here.

Mental Health Risks

Dr. Robert Trestman, a nationally recognized expert in psychiatry and population health at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, says that both children and parents face mental health risks.

For children, this includes acute separation trauma, PTSD, attachment failures, subsequent anxiety, depression, and behavioral disorders. Parents are at risk from anxiety, depression, and worsening of any underlying mental or medical conditions due the profound distress.

Trestman is chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. His interests include mental health services research and the neurobiology and treatment of people with severe mood and personality disorders. Read his full bio here.


To secure an interview with Dunsmore or Trestman, please contact Alison Matthiessen at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine at [email protected] or 540-526-2603 or Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at [email protected] or 571-858-3262.