- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Migrant children who come to the U.S. without their parents or who got separated from them by the government suffered serious trauma and the Health and Human Services Department shelters charged with caring for the children are struggling to deliver, a new inspector general’s report concluded Wednesday.

The trauma often began in the juveniles’ home countries, and continued during the often treacherous journey north to try to sneak into the U.S., investigators said.

But the Trump administration increased the trauma for some children through last year’s zero-tolerance policy, which separated some families and created more Unaccompanied Alien Children than there would otherwise have been.

The administration also enacted policies it said were intended to keep the children safe from child predators and other criminal situations — but which led to children being in government care for longer, which also fueled trauma, the HHS inspector general found.

More difficulties followed.

Mental health professionals said they struggled to figure out the best ways to treat the children since they weren’t sure how long the juveniles would be in their care. Under the law, UACs are supposed to be placed with family or foster care sponsors as quickly as possible, but that turns out to work against the mental health needs.

“Mental health clinicians described intentionally not probing into past events, but instead staying focused on helping children to cope and remain stable,” the auditors found. “Mental health clinicians referred to this as a ‘Band-Aid’ approach, akin to psychological first aid; the goal is not to treat children’s underlying issues because children will not be in the facility long enough to make meaningful progress.”

Some of the mental health professionals said the children’s trauma was so high that despite their own training, they weren’t prepared. Clinicians even reported facing their own mental distress from having to hear about the horrific conditions some of the children had faced during their travels.

Democrats were eager to blame President Trump.

“These reports validate what we have long known, the Trump administration’s cruel and chaotic immigration policies are taking a damning toll on children and their mental health,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

He said his panel has a hearing scheduled for later this month to examine children’s health and safety in connection with the border crisis.

The report says the administration’s policies did exacerbate matters.

One boy — he was either 7 or 8 years old, the investigators weren’t sure — was separated from his father without explanation, and developed a delusion that his father had been killed and came to believe he too would be killed, the report said. The boy needed emergency psychiatric care.

But the end of the separations also led to trauma, the report said, as the shelters tried to figure out how to comply with a court order to reunite the children.

“For example, case managers in facilities were not always able to let children know when, or even if, they would be reunified with their parents, or whether that reunification would happen in the United States. This type of uncertainty added to the distress and mental health needs of separated children,” the auditors said.

The children who did need help for their stress also distracted the facilities from caring for other children, the audit found.

Federal health officials, in their response to the report, said many of the problems identified are beyond their control, including the surge of migrant children that overwhelmed government facilities, and the unique type of trauma illegal immigrant children face when sent on a terrifying journey without parents.

Still, the health officials said they’ve already taken steps to try to alleviate some of the problems, including cutting the amount of time children are in custody from an average of 93 days in November 2018 to 48 days in April.

In short, children are being pushed out of government care and into sponsors’ hands as fast as ever.

HHS said it also hired a board-certified psychiatrist to lead a mental health team for the migrant children.

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