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Government watchdog: Separations caused trauma on migrant children

People protesting family separation in June 2018.
People march in support of separated migrant families in June 2018. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

During the family separation crisis last year, Health and Human Services facilities struggled to provide adequate mental health care to migrant children as required under the Flores agreement, according to a new agency watchdog report.

Why it matters: Many of these migrant minors had already faced signifiant trauma in their home countries and in their travel to the border — such as physical abuse, kidnapping, rape and other forms of violence, according to the report. In addition, child migrant care facilities told the Inspector General (OIG) "addressing the unique mental health needs of separated children was particularly challenging."

Key quotes: "Separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated. Separated children experienced heightened feelings of anxiety and loss as a result of their unexpected separation from their parents..."

  • "Children who did not understand why they were separated from their parents suffered elevated levels of mental distress."
  • "The level of trauma and unique experiences of separated children made it more difficult to... address children’s mental health needs."
  • The report also found that the uncertainty and chaos surrounding the reunification process added to migrant children's emotional distress.
  • One child was moved to a different care facility to be reunited with her father, but "after the child made several trips to the detention center, she was returned to the Florida facility 'in shambles' without ever seeing her father."

What to watch: Dozens of migrant parents are preparing to sue the U.S. government, claiming their children were harmed while in HHS custody during family separation, the AP reported last month. It found taxpayers could end up having to pay $200 million in damages.