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‘Can’t Feel My Heart:’ IG Says Separated Kids Traumatized

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Children separated during the Trump administration's "zero tolerance policy" last year, many already distressed in their home countries or by their journey, 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.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego judge this week, ordered 11 parents separated from their children at the border and deported can return to the u s to pursue asylum attorneys for one woman in the case say she was so distraught by the separation from her son that her face became paralyzed for days. Well now a new report from the U S inspector general finds that children who had been separated from their families are suffering from traumatic psychological impacts that something the American psychological association has warned about. Earlier I spoke with Dr Rosey Phillips Davis, President of the Association. I started by asking what she concluded from the report.

Speaker 2: 00:40 Well, we were delighted to find that the reports support it for the American psychological association has been saying for years that it actually retraumatizes children to separate them from their parents. As you know, these children have just been on a long hard journey and, and they've seen terrible things and so to be separated from their parents just retraumatizes them. And that's what the reports concluded.

Speaker 1: 01:12 And can you detail how they were being retraumatized?

Speaker 2: 01:15 They have seen terrible things. For example, many of these children and parents are leaving because of the violence that they have experienced in their home countries. Some of these young people have seen parents murdered, some girls have been raped. There've even been cases where girls have been raped and gotten pregnant. Children had been separated from their parents and or other relatives and they want to get to the United States thinking that they have reached a safe haven and in some ways they have and then for them to get here and unexpectedly be separated from their church, from their parents. They at least children don't know what is going on with them. They just know that they are not with their parents so they're already scared and frightened and now their parents have been taken away.

Speaker 1: 02:07 Can you talk to me a bit more about how that trauma manifests in, in these children,

Speaker 2: 02:12 young children just being separated and their routines uprooted, traveling long distances and struggling with food and shelter and then coming to these places where they don't have the same routine. They are not in homes, they are not in their regular be it. They're in crowded facilities with people that they don't know. And if you imagine what happens to young people when they are suddenly in a situation where they don't know anyone, the routines are different, they are scared, they're frightened and sometimes they, so they'll have PTSD or sometimes they will just have lots of anxiety, lots of fear. And sometimes these children will even experience things like Ah, ah, the salsa tube disorders that is that they just, it's almost like out of body experiences. And so the costs, children need a stable, harmonious environment even in the best of time.

Speaker 1: 03:16 MMM. And the reports were released on Wednesday after the policies that they are reporting on have been largely done away with. Correct.

Speaker 2: 03:24 Some of those policies that I'm aware of, and example would be, they used to require when, when they went to that zero tolerance policy, they would require all of the adults, including the parents to have fingerprints and they would send them away and they just got banked up. And so, so many more of those children were in those immigration facilities. And so they did away with that kind of policy. And some of the others that they have just rescinded. For example, one of the ones that I'm aware that they rescinded was one where they were requiring background checks on the workers who were taking care of the children and sometimes they would give waivers for those because they couldn't get all those done. Well they did away with that kind of policy too, but they still haven't been able to re reunite all of those children. So they still have a ways to go. And I believe these are all good people trying to do the right thing. It's just that they're overwhelmed.

Speaker 1: 04:25 Hmm. And the APA also said that there weren't enough mental health providers at the shelters. What was the reasoning for the shortage?

Speaker 2: 04:34 What the report indicates is that they cannot find enough people to do the job. And so my understanding is that their ratio was one to 12 but sometimes they'd have as many as one provider to 25 children. And when you're dealing with a child, for example, a child who's crying and inconsolable, you can't decide that you can spend a half an hour with that child and move on or an hour and move on. So it's not easy to get enough hours for the workers to have even a regular case load, let alone one that is overloaded. And then they suffer from having low compensation for the mental health workers and they have long demanding hours. And another part of the problem, because this is such a surge and they are recruiting people who may be, haven't even had enough experience with this kind of Fama and yet they're trying to do that work. And so that's very hard on some workers. If you're not used to doing that kind of work and dealing with children at that level was that kind of trauma, then it can be tiring on the worker. So the demands of the job, so people are competing for those individuals who can pay more and with few hours and less Pharma to deal with

Speaker 1: 06:00 and going forward. What would the American psychological association like to see done to correct these problems?

Speaker 2: 06:06 Couple of things that we like to see. One, we certainly would like to see them do more research to know exactly what they ought to be doing for those children. And we certainly hope that they will recruit people that actually are better able to deliver the services. We also would invite them to look at some of the resources on the APA website because there are some there, uh, saying that, um, that will, that will prevent us from training. We hope. The other thing is that they will get case loads that are more manageable. And then I think if it's, if they would work harder just to attract and retain some of the workers, maybe they need to look at increasing compensation for doing the jobs that they do.

Speaker 1: 07:02 I have been speaking with Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American psychological association. Dr. Davis, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 07:10 You're welcome. Glad to be with you.

Speaker 3: 07:15 Mm.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.