Chairwoman Lowey Statement at Oversight Hearing on Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody

2019-09-18 10:06

Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee's oversight hearing on the mental health needs of children in HHS custody:

I thank Chair DeLauro and Ranking Member Cole for holding this hearing, and I thank Assistant Inspector General Maxwell, Director Hayes, and Commander White for joining us today.

The fact that we are here again is a clear example of how damaging and cruel the Trump Administration’s actions have been on the mental health of vulnerable children.  This could have been largely avoided – children belong with their families.    

Two months ago, I, Chair DeLauro, and several of our colleagues visited the Homestead influx facility.  As I look through the Inspector General’s report on mental health needs of these children, it is clear we were not provided a full picture of ORR’s challenges.

I am deeply concerned with the Inspector General’s findings.  Some of these include clinician shortages, problems with access to external and specialized care, and a lack of preparedness among clinicians to treat the level of trauma in these children.

What causes me even more concern is what we still don’t know.   For example, the Inspector General’s assessment did not evaluate the quality or appropriateness of the mental health care provided in ORR facilities.   

As we see in many other parts of our society, access to quality mental health care is critical. For many of these children – I dare say, most – they have lived in so much danger, poverty, or both, that their parents chose to risk a dangerous journey to the United States, regardless of the fate they or their children faced at our border. The mental health challenges resulting from these experiences are compounded exponentially by the trauma of separation from their parents.  Lengthy time in ORR care – often due to fear among prospective guardians created by the Administration’s information sharing with DHS - can also be very traumatic.

Failure to address these needs appropriately, especially in children, can have long lasting – even life-long - impacts. 

I am encouraged ORR has acknowledged the IG report’s findings and has committed to improve. Doing so is a tall order, especially with the Trump Administration which is making this crisis worse and worse with its harsh and inhumane policies.  

Thousands of children depend on you honoring your commitment to improve, and the world is watching to see if we can restore the values that have made this nation a beacon of hope. Your transparency with this committee is essential.  

Thank you for appearing today, and I look forward to our discussion.

116th Congress