Toolkit: Insights from OIG's Work on the Office of Refugee Resettlement's Efforts To Care for Unaccompanied Children
ABOUT THE UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN PROGRAM
Unaccompanied children are children under the age of 18 who have no lawful immigration status in the United States and who have no parent or legal guardian in this country available to assume physical custody and provide care for them. Most unaccompanied children come into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because they are apprehended by border patrol officers with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS must refer unaccompanied children to HHS within 72 hours unless there are exceptional circumstances. The Unaccompanied Children Program, a program office within ACF's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), funds a network of facilities that provide care to unaccompanied children, generally until suitable sponsors in the United States can assume custody.
WHY OIG CREATED THE TOOLKIT
The toolkit compiles insights from OIG's oversight of the Unaccompanied Children Program. We provide this information to assist ORR in responding to the current surge of unaccompanied children. By mid-May 2021, the number of unaccompanied children referred to HHS in fiscal year 2021 had already exceeded referrals from 6 of the last 9 fiscal years.
In order to respond to the 2021 surge, HHS has added capacity at State-licensed facilities and has opened new influx care facilities and emergency intake sites-two types of facilities that are not required to be State-licensed. This toolkit outlines consequential actions that HHS program officials and facility administrators can take to ensure the health and safety of children in care, especially children at these new facilities. This toolkit contains information that may be relevant for other policymakers as well.
WHAT THE TOOLKIT INCLUDES
The insights provided in this toolkit are largely drawn from audits and evaluations conducted since 2008, including reports that were issued following site visits at 45 facilities during the 2018 surge of children entering the Unaccompanied Children Program. The insights focus on three priority areas: (1) ensuring that HHS is prepared to take unaccompanied children into custody as they are transferred from immigration officials; (2) protecting children from harm; and (3) addressing children's medical and mental health. This toolkit contains no new recommendations.
ACTIONS THAT ORR CAN TAKE
Given the increase in the number of children in HHS custody, immediate actions that ORR can take to ensure children's health and safety include:
- Coordinating with local and Federal law enforcement agencies when opening new facilities that are not State-licensed in order to identify the entities that will provide emergency response services.
- Maintaining a significant incident reporting system and ensuring that facility staff have clear training on how to effectively report safety incidents.
- Meeting requirements for pre-employment background screenings, including conducting timely background checks for new employees.
- Taking all reasonable steps to minimize the time that children remain in ORR custody by efficiently and effectively vetting potential sponsors.