Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the US- Mexico border last year have suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
The chaotic reunification process only added to their ordeal.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of the official release.
The children, 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 from the inspector general's office in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some cried inconsolably. Others believed their parents had abandoned them and were angry and confused. "Other children expressed feelings of fear or guilt and became concerned for their parents' welfare," according to the report.
The report is the first substantial accounting by a government agency on how family separation under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy has affected the mental health of children. It was based on interviews with about 100 mental health clinicians who had regular interactions with children but did not directly address the quality of the care the children did receive.
"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," said Deputy Inspector General Ann Maxwell. "Separated children are also younger than the teenagers' facilities were used to caring for."