The Jed Foundation is deeply concerned by recent reports about the care and management of children who are immigrating or seeking asylum in the US. Many of these children are coming from countries or areas where it is likely that they have already experienced personal and family traumatic events. This is why many are seeking refuge in the US. Thus, from a health and safety perspective, it is important that they not be placed in settings or environments that will further traumatize, harm or endanger them.
While it appears that steps are being taken to stop the separation of children from their parents upon entry to the USA, it remains unclear how immigrant families will be handled going forward. We hope that basic health and mental health needs are adequately and humanely addressed for all those within the borders of the US.
We wish to express particular concern about a recent report of migrant children under federal supervision receiving psychiatric medications to manage agitation. While this report addresses practices that have been ongoing, with the possibility that there is now a larger population of children who are under federal supervision, it is possible that the scope of the practice could increase. While we are not able to investigate the veracity of these claims or the scope of this practice, we do want to emphasize that many psychiatric medications are quite potent drugs with numerous side effects. These drugs need to be prescribed carefully for the illnesses for which they have been approved. They should not be used as “chemical restraints” to keep people (particularly children) who do not have a mental illness sedated or quiet. Of particularly acute concern as we enter the summer, many of these children are likely to be in facilities in areas close to our southern border where temperatures can be very high. Several of these drugs may interfere with the ability to sweat. For those in hot areas, this can lead to dangerous increases in body temperature which, if not monitored and addressed quickly, can be lethal.
Thus, we urge all facilities that are currently managing children to cease the non-clinical use of psychiatric medications and maintain safe, prudent and ethical supervision of the children under their supervision.