About Unaccompanied Children's Services

Following the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) mission, which is founded on the belief that new arriving populations have inherent capabilities when given opportunities, ORR/ Division of Children Services/Unaccompanied Alien Children program provides unaccompanied alien children (UAC) with a safe and appropriate environment as well as client-focused highest quality of care to maximize the UAC’s opportunities for success both while in care, and upon discharge from the program to sponsors in the U.S. or return to home country, to assist them in becoming integrated members of our global society.

Overview

On March 1, 2003, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 462, transferred responsibilities for the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Since then, ORR has cared for more than 92,000 UAC, incorporating child welfare values as well as the principles and provisions established by the Flores Agreement in 1997, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorization acts, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005 and 2008.

Unaccompanied alien children (UAC) apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials, are transferred to the care and custody of ORR. ORR makes and implements placement decisions in the best interests of the UAC to ensure placement in the least restrictive setting possible while in federal custody. ORR takes into consideration the unique nature of each UAC’s situation and incorporates child welfare principles when making placement, clinical, case management, and release decisions that are in the best interest of the child.  View the infographic about the UAC process.

Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs en Español)

Facts about UAC

See also: ORR Fact Sheet on Unaccompanied Children's Services

Their youth, their separation from a protective environment or person, and the hazardous journey they embark make UAC especially vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. UAC have multiple, inter-related reasons for undertaking the difficult journey of traveling to the United States. UAC leave their home countries to rejoin family already in the United States, to escape abusive family relationships in their home country, or to find work to support their families in the home country.

General UAC Statistics

*An unaccompanied alien child is a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained 18 years of age; and, with respect to whom, there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.
See 6 U.S.C. § 279(g)(2)

General Statistics about UAC 1

Reasons why these minors have come to the United States include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • To escape violence, abuse or persecution in their home countries
  • To find family members already residing in the United States
  • To seek work to support themselves; their family, or their own children
  • Were brought into the United States by human trafficking rings

UAC Referrals

General Statistics about UAC 3

Click here to download a PDF version

The majority of UAC are cared for through a network of state licensed ORR-funded care providers, most of which are located close to areas where immigration officials apprehend large numbers of aliens. These care provider facilities are state licensed and must meet ORR requirements to ensure a high level of quality of care. They provide a continuum of care for children, including foster care, group homes, shelter, staff secure, secure, and residential treatment centers. The care providers operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, and provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.

ORR provides placement services to UAC to facilitate safe and timely release and to ensure that children are released to family members or other sponsors that can care for the child’s physical and mental well-being. ORR conducts home studies prior to release if safety is in question. ORR also funds follow-up services for at-risk children after release to sponsors from ORR custody.

ORR Responsibilities:

  • Making and implementing placement decisions for the UAC
  • Ensuring that the interests of the child are considered in decisions related to the care and custody of UAC
  • Providing home assessments for certain categories of UAC at risk
  • Conducting follow-up services for certain categories of children
  • Overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of ORR-funded UAC care provider facilities
  • Conducting on-site monitoring visits of ORR-funded care provider facilities and ensuring compliance with ORR national care standards
  • Collecting, analyzing, and reporting statistical information on UAC
  • Providing training to federal, state, and local officials who have substantive contact with UACs
  • Developing procedures for age determinations and conducting these determinations along with DHS
  • Granting specific consent for state court jurisdiction over children
  • Cooperating with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to ensure that sponsors of UACs receive legal orientation presentations
  • Ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that all UAC in custody have access to legal representation or counsel
  • Reunifying UAC with qualified sponsors and family members who are determined to be capable of providing for the child's physical and mental well-being

In order to help UAC access legal representation to the greatest extent possible and practicable, ORR coordinates a legal access project. The legal access project provides UAC with presentations on their rights, conducts individualized legal screenings, and builds pro bono legal representation capacity. Many UAC meet conditions that make them eligible for legal relief to remain in the United States including asylum; special visas for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parents or guardian; special visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking and other types of criminal violence; or adjustment of status for those who have a legal resident or citizen family member.

Contact Information

Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
901 D Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 202.401.9246
Fax: 202.401.1022