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New Report Details the Traumatic Effects of Family Separation on Children

US government watchdog details trauma experienced by separated migrant children” by Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report providing new details about the trauma that Trump administration policies are having on migrant children held in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters. The report makes clear that the administration’s illegal family separation policy as well as other policy changes that have prolonged the length of time such children are held in government custody have exacerbated the significant trauma that many of these children already have suffered.

The report finds that these ORR shelters struggled to address the “mental health needs of children who had experienced intense trauma” and had difficulty accessing specialized treatment. Firsthand accounts provided by facility staff describe children crying inconsolably. One young boy believed that his father had been killed—and that he, too, would be killed—after they were separated without explanation. Other children were angry at their parents, believing that their parents had abandoned them. One facility medical director reported that many children complained of physical symptoms such as chest pain that were likely manifestations of the intense psychological trauma.

Facility staff also explained that as a result of administration policies that prolonged the length of time that children remained in government custody, there were “higher levels of defiance, hopelessness, and frustration among children, along with more instances of self-harm and suicidal ideation.” This report comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s publication of a regulation designed to overturn the long-standing court-ordered Flores settlement so that children might be detained indefinitely. The OIG report supports the position of the nation’s leading organizations working to protect the health and welfare of children; these organizations filed a brief in federal court arguing that the new regulation will cause irreparable harm to children.

For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”