August 16, 2018

Senator Hassan Confronts Health and Human Services Official About Agency’s Failure to Ensure that States are Notified By Federal Agencies When Receiving Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

Trump Administration Official Also Admits to Knowing that Separating Children from Families Under “Zero-Tolerance” Policy Could Lead to Long-Term Behavioral Health Problems and Psychological Injury for Children


To watch the Senator’s remarks, click here.

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan today participated in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing, where she confronted Commander Johnathan D. White, Incident Commander in the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Preparedness and Response who is tasked to lead the Unaccompanied Alien Children Reunification mission at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about the agency’s failure to ensure that states are notified by and have support from federal agencies when an unaccompanied immigrant child is placed with a sponsor who lives in those states. 

"States can do more to help unaccompanied children who have been placed with sponsors if the states know that the children have been placed there – such as providing child welfare services, the information that kids are coming and where they’ve been placed, and notifying school systems that there are now children in their jurisdiction who should be attending school,” Senator Hassan said. “But in our last hearing, Assistant Secretary Steven Wagner [Acting Assistance Secretary at the HHS Administration for Children and Families] said that the agency usually fails to give states this basic information. I am well aware that there are sometimes issues between state and federal governments with communication. But the reason that the agency cited for this lack of communication is that you don't know who to contact in the state and that seems awfully weak to me. The last hearing we had here one of the DHS representatives said ‘Well, I've got a great relationship with emergency personnel in the state’, my suggestion might be to DHS, pick up the phone ask them who the child welfare person is in the state. Your emergency response people will know that. In New Hampshire you can call the governor's office - 603-271-2121 - and they will tell you who’s in charge of child welfare agencies in the state."

The Senator pushed Commander White to commit to do more to ensure that states and localities are notified of these arrangements so that child welfare agencies and schools can do their due diligence to protect immigrant children from potentially abusive caregivers or mitigate their risk of trafficking.

Senator Hassan also pressed Commander White on concerns he raised during a separate testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that separating parents and children at the border, as ordered by the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, may lead to long-term behavioral health problems and psychological injury for immigrant children.

Commander White admitted, “It is well established in the pediatric psychiatric literature, as well as in the practice research for child welfare and foster care systems, that separation of children, particularly young children from their families, is a traumatic event, there is a significant potential for both short term diagnosable psychological illness and long-term psychological illness as a result of that traumatic event. That's well-supported in the scientific literature. That was what I was referring to, although I think it's probably well understood without being a mental health professional how separating a child from their family could cause them injury. "