At the close of a tough year for children, Washington seems to have found its heart. Within a 24-hour period, two major government actions have thrown partisan politics aside — and put the interests of children first.
Policy Change Will Reunite Families More Quickly
In a major policy reversal, the Trump administration said it is easing security measures that have forced thousands of traumatized immigrant children to languish for months in detention centers across the U.S.
Effective immediately, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will no longer require that everyone living in a household where a detained child is to be placed must be fingerprinted. Only the adult who is sponsoring the children will undergo a thorough security vetting. As a result of this streamlined policy, some 2,000 migrant children are expected to be reunited with their families within days. Going forward, children should spend far less time in detention before being reunited with their families.
We agree wholeheartedly with HHS that the harsh policy was “not adding anything to the protection or the safety of children.” Indeed, quite the opposite. The detention of children poses a severe risk to the health of minors, and the damage can be wide-ranging and long-lasting. There is substantial evidence that holding children in detention puts them at a higher risk of suffering from physical health problems and psychological damage, whether by exacerbating existing issues or causing new trauma.
In a year where the federal government’s assault on migrant children has been relentless and the number of children in detention has skyrocketed to some 15,000 nationwide, this policy shift could put thousands of children back where they belong: with their family.
A Step toward Ending Juvenile Solitary Confinement
The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly approved a new bill that reverses some of the most onerous policies in our nation’s broken criminal justice system. Among the many reforms outlined in the First Step Act is an end to the cruel practice of juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons.
Children’s Rights has long advocated for the abolition of solitary confinement and other harmful conditions that youth face in the justice system. Solitary confinement is traumatizing in and of itself, and exacerbates existing emotional distress, interferes with normal child development, and can cause serious life-long health problems. Studies show it leads to self-harm, psychosis, and suicide — in adults as well youth.
The Senate bill is, as its name suggests, a great first step toward a more equitable and cost-effective federal criminal justice system. But for this bipartisan moment to achieve its full potential will require that states across the country follow suit, and banish the inhumane and deeply damaging practice of juvenile solitary confinement.