Government Accountability Project Demands Congress Heed Warnings of DHS Whistleblowers, HHS OIG on Child Detention Practices

HHS Report Details Trauma of Children in Detention Previously Flagged by DHS Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report documenting harm to children held in detention facilities under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. According to the report, facilities’ staff identified significant problems with providing adequate mental health resources, the need for greater trauma-informed care, and challenges to hiring and retention of mental health staff.

The concerns relayed in the report are deeply troubling. But this isn’t the first time the public has learned of them. Whistleblowers have long been calling attention to the catastrophic consequences of detention on children’s mental health. Last year, our clients, medical and mental health experts for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Drs. Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, blew the whistle on the Trump administration’s endangerment of child health and safety under the policy, which greatly expanded the number of children in detention. In particular, the doctors raised concerns that DHS family detention facilities were plagued with systemic problems rendering them unable to provide the comprehensive care necessary for children in detention, including the inability to hire or retain qualified mental health care staff, an absence of specialists with language fluency, and the lack of standards for trauma-informed care. The HHS OIG’s report found many of these same conditions at the facilities that care for children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s custody.  

In an interview with 60 Minutes last November, Dr. McPherson, an expert in child and adolescent psychiatry, said, 

“I had concerns about the trauma that the children could experience, about the cumulative traumatic stress that could lead children to have delays in developmental milestones, difficulties with their memory or thinking later, difficulties forming relationships and regulating their emotions.”

In response to the HHS report, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel, Dana Gold, said, 

“Drs. Allen and McPherson have been alerting the public for more than a year to the failures of detention facilities to address the mental health needs of already-traumatized migrant children who are then further traumatized by detention. HHS has now confirmed our clients’ disclosures, but the Trump administration continues to detain children to this day, even seeking to prolong detention, despite the overwhelming evidence that detention causes harm. We call on Congress to act on whistleblowers’ disclosures and watchdog knowledge and put an end to this despicable practice once and for all.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director


Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 156

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, the Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, the Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.