What to Know
Gov. Cuomo said Thursday there are 700 migrant children separated from their families have been sent to New York foster care agencies
12 of those children in New York City of them have been seen in hospitals; officials say they're concerned about the kids' mental health
Staff at some foster agencies say they're also struggling to find ways to connect the kids with their parents over the phone
Federal authorities must provide information on the estimated 700 immigrant children sent to foster care agencies in New York state after being separated from their parents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday as he continued to bash the Trump administration's handling of the humanitarian crisis on the southern border.
New York is receiving so many displaced children because the state has one of the largest foster-care networks in the nation, Cuomo said. The Democrat says he's sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting information on the children being housed in New York so the state can provide appropriate services, including counseling and mental health evaluations.
One such foster care agency in New York City, the Cayuga Center in East Harlem, has taken in 350 immigrant children since April, the youngest just 9 months old, according to officials there. Children were seen being shuffled to and from the center Wednesday and Thursday, their heads covered in blankets to protect their privacy.
Jeffrey Drummond, a child advocate, told News 4 he checked out the facility during a quick walk-through Thursday. The children there, he said, seemed "perfectly playful."
The Cayuga Center says its services include placing children in bilingual, culturally matched foster homes; providing them with medical and mental health care, daily education and recreation; and helping them to be unified with family members.
While New Yorkers have been calling the city's child welfare agency to volunteer to foster these children, the Administration of Children's Services has zero oversight into the process and must refer them to places like Cayuga.
"New York is a very compassionate city, and New Yorkers are always willing to lend a hand," said ACS Commissioner David Hansell.
"We have no oversight over their unaccompanied minors program, but what we told the staff yesterday was that ACS stands ready to take care of these kids," he said.
New York City's First Lady Chirlane McCray also addressed the mental health issues they face: "The terror these innocent children experience, even if only for a few minutes, can affect them for the rest of their lives."
"The risks associated are real," she said.
The head of NYC Health + Hospitals, Mitchell Katz, said foster parents have brought in at least 12 of these children for symptoms ranging from asthma to depression -- one was even suicidal, he said. Eight have been seen in the Bronx, and four at Bellevue.
"Just imagine for a moment that your child has been taken away from you, and what reaction you would expect from your child," he said. "Not surprising that one of the 12 children actually presented suicidal."
"They are sad, despondent and we are unable to help them with their emotional scars," said Dr. Daran Kaufman, who oversees pediatric emergency at North Central Bronx Hospital.
"Our clinicians have been feeling helpless," she said.
Meanwhile, other local foster facilities are struggling to figure out how to put the immigrant children in touch with their parents, a day after President Trump signed the executive order ending family separation at the border.
At MercyFirst on Long Island, where eight migrant children between the ages 6 to 10 are being cared for, director Gerry McCaffery said, "We certainly hope we aren't getting more children separated from parents, and we hope the children in our care can be reunited with their parents as soon as possible, even if that means going into a detention center."
The Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry is housing 17 undocumented minors, and their director told News 4 in an exclusive interview Wednesday the staff was spending hours navigating the system to help children make contact via Skype or phone.
But a frustrated worker at another local program reported Thursday that while they have federal permission to accept collect calls, some of the border facilities are not allowing parents to make collect calls -- leaving their unaccompanied children traumatized.
Cuomo said earlier this week that about 70 children had been sent to New York foster care agencies after being separated from their parents when the families were caught entering the country illegally. That number is now around 700, yet state officials don't know exactly how many are being cared for and where they're located because the agencies aren't allowed to divulge that information due to a gag order imposed by the federal government, Cuomo said.
He said it's his legal responsibility as governor of New York to ensure the children within the state's borders receive proper care, whether or not they're U.S. citizens.
"It's my constitutional responsibility to take care of the health and well-being of the kids in my state," Cuomo said. "I believe legally, they must tell me where they are. They're not political pawns that you can hide."
Cuomo's letter sent Thursday to Azar said state officials knew of at least 345 children who had been separated from their parents and brought to New York. The governor said that by the time his teleconference call was held, state officials had learned many more children were in New York than previously thought, with some arriving that very morning.
He laid blame for the discrepancy in the numbers solely on HHS, describing the federal agency as being in a "mad scramble" to find housing for the children while refusing to provide state officials with any information.
"The state has a right to know what's going on in those foster care agencies," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he hadn't received any response from HHS by Thursday afternoon. Messages left with the agency weren't immediately returned.