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 40, 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.

In Fiscal Year 2012, the UAC program experienced an unprecedented increase in referrals from DHS, doubling the program’s size over the previous eight years, which had averaged 6,775 referrals per year.  This increase continued to be seen in FY2013, with the referrals totalling 24,668 by the end of the year.  

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 Statistics of UAC in care

FY 2012 FY 2013
77% male 73% male
23% female 27% female
17% below the age of 14 24% below the age of 14


Most Common Native Countries of UAC

Country FY 2012 FY 2013
Guatamala 34% 37%
El Salavador 27% 26%
Honduras 27% 30%
Mexico 8% 3%
Ecuador 2% 2%
Other 2% 3%


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.

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.

ORR provides family reunification services to UAC to facilitate safe and timely release, and 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.

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