A fundamental truth about children is that they have needs they cannot themselves fulfill. They need people who acquire and prepare food for them, and people who look out for their safety and cleanliness. Beyond those material needs, they also need people who care for them emotionally, tending to them when they are sick and supporting them through tough times. Normally these duties fall to parents, but they can also fall to relatives, family friends, babysitters, teachers, or social workers. At the border, in detention centers, they are falling to other detained children, a harrowing detail in a sea of harrowing details now being reported.
Lawyers who visited a border station in Clint, Texas, this week told the Associated Press that during their visit, they encountered small children who had been taken from their parents under the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, some of them infants and toddlers, who are receiving little time or attention from adult caregivers or supervisors. Instead, some detained children receive affection and care—such as being held, rocked, bathed, fed, and even changed—only from other, slightly older detained children. As the AP reported Saturday:
Three girls told attorneys they were trying to take care of [a] 2-year-old boy, who had wet his pants and had no diaper and was wearing a mucus-smeared shirt when the legal team encountered him.
“A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday,” one of the girls said in an interview with attorneys.
Children are so tired from the duties of caring for one another that they are reportedly falling asleep during interviews with the lawyers, and one 8-year-old who was “taking care of a very small 4-year-old with matted hair couldn’t convince the little one to take a shower,” a lawyer told the AP. One 14-year-old girl from Guatemala who had been holding two little girls in her lap told the AP, “I need comfort, too. I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too.”