Migrant children separated from parents experienced ‘heightened feelings of anxiety and loss,’ PTSD symptoms: report
Migrant children ripped away from their parents amid the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy suffered “heightened feelings of anxiety and loss” and other serious mental health problems, which have only been made worse by the tumultuous reunification process, a government watchdog group said.
A report released Wednesday by the inspector general’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services, showed that separated children experienced more post-traumatic stress symptoms, fear and worries of abandonment than those who remained with their caregivers.
“Every single separated kid has been terrified. We’re seen as the enemy,” a program director said in the report.
Some believed their parents were angry with them while “other children expressed feelings of fear or guilt and became concerned for their parent’s welfare.”
“Some separated children expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably,” the director continued.
The report is based on interviews with 100 mental health clinicians who had regular interactions with the children over the last year, around the same time the facilities at the border became overwhelmed, due in part to the “zero tolerance policy.”
More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents under the standard, which required all undocumented migrants be referred for criminal prosecution. A federal judge in June ordered an end to the family separations — just two months after the policy went into effect.
One program director recalled how a boy, who was just 7 or 8 years old, feared for the worst after he was separated from his father without any explanation.
The watchdog group urged minimizing time at the facilities — given children’s symptoms worsened the longer they were in government custody — as well as the creation of better mental health care options. It also recommended hiring staff that are better trained.
The Administration for Children and Families said it agrees with the recommendations and has already sought out board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrists to serve as mental health team leaders.
“ACF is equally committed to providing the public with a fair accounting of the ORR program operations,” the federal agency — a division of the Department of Health and Human Services — said in a response included with the report.