Among the most alarming concerns raised by the anonymous whistleblower is that children are being lost within the system “without any contact from a caseworker, which appears to be a systemic issue.” This is according to emails that sent to Fort Bliss management. The whistleblower obtained these emails, GAP said. “Currently, there are remarkably few Mental Health staff with an active license,’” one read. “[V]irtually every child that visits mental health is concerned that they did not yet see a case manager since they were admitted to Fort Bliss,” read a second.
One of the two whistleblower complaints previously released by GAP noted the private contractor managing the camp is a fire and water damage repair company with absolutely zero experience in child welfare. This new complaint reveals staffers tasked with mental health care weren’t any better, describing them as “in over their heads. The team leader was not a licensed mental health worker and had no prior management experience. Our client was told the manager was in charge because the manager had ‘arrived first.’”
The whistleblower had also volunteered at two other “emergency” camps, including one in Pennsylvania. “While at Erie, our client learned that many children suffered dehydration, often developed gastrointestinal issues, and refused to eat the food provided because it was unpalatable and/or unfamiliar,” the complaint said. “Children were wrongly victimized in other ways, too. In one instance, children were sent to the shower room, by gender, to remove lice, which was rampant. One staffer—of a gender different than the children—attempted to remain in the shower room. Other staffers protested; the staffer initially left but on more than one occasion returned after complaining staffers stepped out. The staffer then participated in the lice removal process within a few feet of where the tender age girls were showering.”
“Management ignored our client’s repeated complaints,” the complaint continued. “There was no formalized process for reporting complaints and no chain of command for elevating concerns. Five days after arrival, the Erie [emergency intake site] was closed.” The GAP’s other whistleblower complaint alleges that volunteers were instructed to downplay a COVID-19 outbreak among children at Fort Bliss. Per NBC News, hundreds of kids may have been sick.
The Biden administration is currently facing a lawsuit over “shockingly deplorable conditions” at Fort Bliss and Pecos, where “our legal team has witnessed disturbing conditions that put the health and welfare of these children in harm’s way, including food-related abdominal pain from undercooked and spoiled food, and children being kept in cage-like rooms for most of the day,” RAICES said. Court documents detail medical neglect at the camp, including “clients who have not received proper medical attention after breaking bones,” advocates continued. “Defendants have entrusted the care of vulnerable children to staff at [emergency intake sites] who lack experience caring for children and in some cases cannot even communicate with the children they are supervising,” court documents read.
Houston Chronicle reports that the Biden administration currently has 14,000 unaccompanied children in U.S. custody. Advocates have repeatedly said that small-scale facilities are best when children have to be in custody while waiting to be reunited with a family member or sponsor. Yet, adding to the plight of unaccompanied children, in Texas specifically, an order from right-wing Gov. Greg Abbott means dozens of facilities there are currently operated without state licenses. In a letter that called on him to revoke the order, 70 child welfare organizations said his despicable proclamation stands to put thousands of kids “at risk of harm.”
As do these large-scale camps. “This new evidence is shocking,” GAP attorney David Z. Seide said in a press release. “It further reveals violations of fundamental human rights. It is no defense to assert that the reports of these conditions are now ‘old’ and have been ‘fixed.’ Problems in implementation and execution are not new, were to be expected, were prohibited by existing laws and regulations, and should have never happened in the first place. Management could have and should have known better.”