HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement Improved Coordination and Outreach to Promote the Safety and Well-Being of Unaccompanied Alien Children
WHY OIG DID THIS REVIEW
Each year, tens of thousands of children without legal status enter the United States unaccompanied by their parents or legal guardians. These children are referred to as unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, the number of UAC entering the United States increased dramatically. Concern for the safety and well-being of these children after their release from Federal custody has risen in recent years, especially in response to cases of human trafficking.
In response to the influx and ongoing concerns, this Office of Inspector General (OIG) report follows up on a 2008 report on the placement, care, and release of UAC. In the 2008 report, OIG found a lack of clarity between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding their roles and responsibilities related to UAC. OIG also found that at the time neither Department checked on children's safety and well being after their release from Federal custody. OIG recommended that the Departments delineate their roles and responsibilities in a formal agreement.
HOW OIG DID THIS REVIEW
We interviewed officials from HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement and DHS in July and August 2016; reviewed policies, laws, and testimony related to UAC; and examined related HHS data and documentation.
WHAT OIG FOUND
Since OIG's 2008 report, HHS and DHS roles and responsibilities related to UAC are now more clearly delineated in Federal law. Further, HHS has improved its coordination with DHS and increased its efforts to promote the safety and well-being of UAC after their release from HHS custody. The Departments have signed a formal agreement regarding their coordination and reported that they have increased and improved their communication.
Additionally, HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has increased its contact with UAC and their adult sponsors after the child's release from HHS custody through three efforts: (1) case management services for the most vulnerable children and their sponsors, (2) safety and well-being calls to each child and their sponsors 30 days after release, and (3) helplines available to all children and their sponsors. These efforts allow ORR to identify concerns about the safety of UAC and report such concerns to law enforcement and child protective service agencies for investigation.
WHAT OIG CONCLUDES
In light of Federal law delineating HHS and DHS roles and responsibilities, the Departments' improved coordination, and HHS's increased efforts to promote the safety and well being of UAC, OIG considers its prior recommendation implemented. However, we recognize that these efforts do not guarantee that all UAC are protected from harm. UAC are a highly vulnerable population with ongoing threats to their safety and well-being. We encourage ORR to continue its efforts to contact these children after their release to sponsors and provide case management services for those who are the most vulnerable. Further, ORR should continue to report any concerns about the safety and well-being of UAC to the local law enforcement and child protective service agencies that have jurisdiction to address such concerns, and to support these agencies in any way possible. Finally, we encourage ORR to continue its efforts to share information and coordinate with DHS.