Unaccompanied migrant children risk lifelong health effects, expert says

A mental health expert says unaccompanied migrant children who will be temporarily housed at the Long Beach Convention Center may need emotional support after experiencing the trauma of leaving their families behind.

Video Transcript

- Preparations are underway to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at the Long Beach Convention Center. The contract with the federal government is about to start and could continue until August. The children may need emotional support after experiencing the trauma of leaving their families behind. Eyewitness News Reporter Jessica De Nova introduces us to a therapist who understands the trauma these children go through.

JESSICA DE NOVA: Claudia Morales is a trauma-informed therapist with nearly two years experience working with migrant children coming from Central and South America and even from as far as Africa alone.

CLAUDIA MORALES: 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. I only interacted with the children who survived. Who knows who was left behind?

JESSICA DE NOVA: Morales says usually they come from indigenous villages caught up in the middle of corporate and government greed.

CLAUDIA MORALES: And a lot of it has to do with the US'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.

JESSICA DE NOVA: Left to starve, Morales says many of these children decide to make the journey on their own, oftentimes penniless and at the mercy of criminals. But the disruption of a parent or permanent attachment figure at such a young age may have lifelong effects on their health.

CLAUDIA MORALES: 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% of diseases that are known to humankind.

JESSICA DE NOVA: Morales emphasizes the importance of protecting the identities and privacy of these children because we don't know what dangers or coercion they or their families may face in their home countries.