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Reports Show Separated Children at the Border Have PTSD and Severe Trauma

An investigation on the treatment of migrant children separated at the border concluded they have experienced severe trauma and show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The results are what many suspected would happen after the government began separating children from their families under their “zero tolerance” policy, which began last summer.

The in-depth report, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general, details how the government mishandled the care of these undocumented children in particular when it came to their mental health and overall well-being. “Facilities reported that addressing the needs of separated children was particularly challenging because these children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress than children who were not separated,” deputy inspector general, Ann Maxwell said according to The Guardian.

The report also details the confusion many migrant children felt about why they had been separated from their parents and where their parents had gone. For example, due to lack of proper explanation, migrant children formed their own conclusions as to why they were being separated and believed their parent(s) had either been killed or thought they had been abandoned.

Further, a clinician also told investigators that children would say to them that their “chest hurts” even though they weren’t sick or suffering from an ailment. Other children would say things such as “every heartbeat hurts,” or “I can’t feel my heart.”

Child psychiatrist Dr. Gilbert Kliman, who interviewed several migrant children that were separated from their families, told the Associated Press that the result of this will be “an epidemic of physical, psychosomatic health problems that are costly to society as well as to the individual child grown up. I call it a vast, cruel experiment on the backs of children.”

He also said that “as they become adults, they face greater risks of mental and physical challenges, from depression to cancer.”

The report also shows that several of the detention facilities did not have trained professionals that understood how to work with children. Many of the detention centers did not require background checks. The facilities that had background checks were only processed after the employee had already been hired. Several of them were eventually fired because they failed their background check.

The investigation found that detention centers and their employees were typically prepared to manage teenagers and not small children. The conclusion here is that the most vulnerable — these small children — will suffer the most from this trauma.