Unaccompanied migrant children risk lifelong health effects in making journey to US, expert says

WHITTIER, Calif. (KABC) -- Preparations are underway to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at the Long Beach Convention Center. A mental health experts says the children may need emotional support after experiencing the trauma of leaving their families behind.

Claudia Morales is a trauma-informed therapist with nearly two years of experience working with migrant children traveling alone from Central and South America and even from as far as Africa.

"These children have been some of the most resilient kids I've ever met in my entire life, and I don't think anyone should have to be that resilient," she said. "I only interacted with the children who survived. Who knows who is left behind."

Morales said, usually, they come from indigenous villages caught up in the middle of corporate and government greed.

Long Beach approves plan for Convention Center to shelter migrant children
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The Long Beach City Council has approved a plan to temporarily house up to 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children at the city's convention center.

"A lot of it has to do with U.S.'s own policies and interventions that have caused a lot of disruption in the stability of these places. So if people are not protected, then there will be a lot of children who are orphaned, who do not have enough to eat," Morales said.

Left to starve, Morales said a lot of these children decide to make the journey on their own, oftentimes penniless and at the mercy of criminals.

The disruption of a parent or permanent attachment figure at such a young age may have life-long effects on their health, Morales says.

"It causes hypervigilance, like a state of paralysis -- fight, flight or freeze, nightmares and dissociation. Just many taxes on the nervous system that constantly send cortisol through the body and the brain and that causes a lifetime of shock to the system, which is toxic and these types of stressors cause 80 percent of diseases that are known to humankind," Morales said.

The therapist emphasized the importance of protecting the privacy and identities of these minors while sharing their stories because it is unclear what dangers they or their families may face in their home countries.

"Many of these children have been kidnapped from their own schools or trying to get to schools. A lot of girls in particular are just threatened when they're just trying to get their education, and so, it is really essential to protect their identity and their privacy because we don't know if they're being harassed or stalked or coerced in their home countries," Morales said.

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