Children who have been separated from their parents at the border are showing signs of severe trauma, clinicians told investigators with a government watchdog. Some children think their parents have been murdered, others believe their parents abandoned them at the border. They also complain about symptoms of sickness even though medically they’re fine.
“You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine” medically, a clinician told government investigators. The children would describe emotional symptoms: “Every heartbeat hurts,” or “I can’t feel my heart.”
The specific child that thought his father had been killed when he was taken from him by U.S. border officials “ultimately required emergency psychiatric care to address his mental health distress,” a program director told investigators.
According to The Associated Press, children who were taken from their parents at the border under the White House’s “zero tolerance policy” showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated, according to a report Wednesday from the inspector general’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reunifying with their parents has also been stressful for the children––and it’s no guarantee that they will ever heal completely.
Child psychiatrist Dr. Gilbert Kliman, who interviewed dozens of migrant children in shelters after zero-tolerance took effect, told The Associated Press that the children are having night terrors, separation anxiety and trouble concentrating. As they become adults, they have a higher likelihood of dealing with depression and cancer.
Among the separated children, Kilman foresees “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.”
According to a second report obtained by The Associated Press, thousands of childcare workers were given direct access to migrant children before completing required background and fingerprint checks.