Nearly 70,000 migrant children were held in the U.S. over the past year, a record high according to government data reported by The Associated Press.
The news agency reports that the data shows that 69,550 migrant children in the past year were held in the custody of the U.S. government.
The number of children held by the government in fiscal 2019 was up 42 percent from fiscal 2018, according to the AP.
Citing United Nations researchers, the report also notes that this is more children detained away from their parents than any other country.
According to the report, about 4,000 children still remain in government custody, while some have been deported or reunited with family in the U.S.
The Trump administration last year ended its "zero tolerance" policy of separating many migrant kids from their families at the border after public outcry. In 2014, then-President Obama also faced scrutiny for the number and treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody under his administration.
Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child Jack Shonkoff told the news outlet that studies show that separations can cause permanent emotional and physical damage to children, saying “early experiences are literally built into our brains and bodies.”
“Stable and responsive relationships promote healthy brain architecture,” Shonkoff said. “If these relationships are disrupted, young children are hit by the double whammy of a brain that is deprived of the positive stimulation it needs, and assaulted by a stress response that disrupts its developing circuitry.”
A September report from an internal government watchdog found that facilities holding migrant children "struggled to address the mental health needs of children who had experienced intense trauma and had difficulty accessing specialized treatment for children who needed it."
Mark Weber, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the AP that with the high volume of children, “You must give credit to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the shelter network staff for managing a program that was able to rapidly expand and unify the largest number of kids ever, all in an incredibly difficult environment.”