Government workers say they warned that Trump's family separations traumatized children but were dismissed as 'a broken record'

Associated Press/Andres LeightonIn this Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, teen migrants walk in line inside the Tonally detention camp in Tornillo, Texas.
  • An inspector general’s report released Thursday found that a number of government officials and workers sought to raise the alarm about the Trump administration’s family separations, but were ignored.
  • Under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy in the spring of 2018, thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents and sent to shelters across the country.
  • Some government officials who oversaw the shelter system said they warned their superiors that the children – some of them infants and toddlers – were being traumatized, but their concerns were dismissed.
  • Ultimately, Trump halted the zero-tolerance policy in June 2018 and a federal judge ordered that all families separated under the policy be reunited.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A number of government officials and staff members at migrant children’s shelters sought to warn their superiors about the devastating impact family separation was having on children in the spring of 2018 but were met with indifference and even mockery, according to a newly released watchdog report.

The report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general reviewed the agency’s handling of the children in its care while President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy was in place.

During that time, thousands of migrant families who crossed the border illegally were separated, with children being scattered to shelters across the country while their parents were kept in detention or even deported.

The inspector general’s report described an atmosphere of confusion and miscommunication at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within HHS that oversees migrant children in government custody.

The report quoted the agency’s former deputy director for children’s programs, who said he raised the alarm in late 2017 that far more children were being separated from their parents than was normal – and that the children were incredibly young.

“I said ORR was seeing much higher levels of separation, and that those separations were impacting particularly babies and young children,” the former official said. “I said this so many times that I was called a broken record.”

The children exhibited fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress

This new population of separated children presented different challenges than the older, unaccompanied migrant children the agency typically handles, the report said.

Staff found that unlike unaccompanied children, many of the separated children had no idea where they were, why they were in government care, or where their parents were.

According to the inspector general’s report, and many other news reports at the time, the separated children exhibited fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

The report described one 11-year-old child whose parents proved difficult for shelter staff to track down. Though staff tried daily to call the detention centre where the parents were held, they never got through. The child cried every day, the report said.

“I told them it was going to traumatize children to separate them unnecessarily,” on ORR staff member said, according to the report. “I said that to anyone I could.”

Migrant children shelterAssociated Press/Brynn AndersonImmigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Homestead, Fla.

The report said the ORR deputy director elevated his concerns about family separation up the chain of command, noting that there was not enough bed capacity to accommodate the children, and that the practice of family separation was “inconsistent” with the agency’s responsibility to protect children.

The report said the top officials to whom the deputy director raised his concerns did not recall any discussions of child welfare concerns related to the family separations.

Ultimately, Trump halted the zero-tolerance policy in June 2018 and a federal judge ordered that all families separated under the policy be reunited.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the Trump administration over the policy, has argued that separations at the border have continued on a smaller scale. The organisation has estimated that some 5,400 children have been separated at the border since July 2017.

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