About Unaccompanied Children's Services

UAC Art for Holiday CardFollowing 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's Services/Unaccompanied Children's program provides unaccompanied children  with a safe and appropriate environment until they are released to an appropriate sponsor while their immigration cases proceed.


On March 1, 2003, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 462, transferred responsibilities for the care and placement of unaccompanied children 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 175,000 children, 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 children apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials are transferred to the care and custody of ORR. ORR promptly places an unaccompanied child in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interests of the child, taking into consideration danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight. ORR takes into consideration the unique nature of each child’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 process.

Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs en Español)

Facts about Unaccompanied Children's Services

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

The age of these individuals, their separation from parents and relatives, and the hazardous journey they take make unaccompanied children especially vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and abuse. Unaccompanied children have multiple, inter-related reasons for undertaking the difficult journey of traveling to the United States, which may include  rejoining family already in the United States, escaping violent communities or abusive family relationships in their home country, or finding work to support their families in the home country.

The majority of unaccompanied children 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 unaccompanied children 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 limited home studies prior to release if safety is in question and for those children who are required to receive home studies under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. ORR also funds limited follow-up services for at-risk children after release to sponsors from ORR custody.

Sponsor Immigration Status and Release of Unaccompanied Children

Since at least 2005, ORR has received immigration status information about potential sponsors and has had a policy in place providing for the release of unaccompanied children (“UC”) to undocumented sponsors, in appropriate circumstances and subject to certain safeguards.  ORR has published guidance on immigration status and the sponsor placement process for unaccompanied children. This document provides background and context to the development of this policy, and is intended to clarify the manner in which it is implemented.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 directs that UC must “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.” See 8 U.S.C. § 1232(c)(2)(A). The settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno, which is binding on the U.S. Government, establishes an order of priority for sponsors with whom children should be placed, except in limited circumstances.  The first preference for placement would be with a parent of the child.  If a parent is not available, the preference is for placement with the child’s legal guardian, and then to various adult family members.  ORR follows these requirements in making placement decisions.

As part of the determination of whether an individual is an appropriate sponsor, ORR requires case managers to verify a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to a child before releasing a child to a sponsor. To meet this requirement, ORR requires case managers to complete (through a web-based portal system maintained by ORR) an assessment of the child’s past and present family relationships, and relationships to non-related potential sponsors.  Case managers are also required to:

  • interview prospective sponsors;
  • require prospective sponsors to complete a “Authorization for Release of Information
  • conduct background checks on all prospective sponsors;
  • coordinate fingerprint checks of the FBI database for non-parental sponsors, or for parental sponsors where there is a documented risk to the safety of the child, the child is especially vulnerable, or the case is being referred for a mandatory home study; and
  • coordinate a check of the immigration Central Index System in some cases.

In this determination process, immigration status information is requested of sponsors, and also may emerge through the background checks. Since January 2014, care providers have been required to enter this information into the ORR portal, a procedure that was optional until that time.  Immigration status information, however, is not used to disqualify potential sponsors. Instead, it is used to ensure the safety and well-being of the child by making sure that there is an adequate care plan in place that takes all relevant aspects of the sponsor’s situation into consideration.

General Statistics

In FY2014, ORR received a total of 57,496 referrals from DHS. 

The top three countries of origin shifted slightly from FY 2013, with the highest percentage of children in FY 2014 coming from Honduras, followed closely by Guatemala and El Salvador.  Children from Mexico accounted for less than two percent of total, and all other countries combined (more than 50) totaled less than three percent of all referrals.

Country of Origin FY2014 FY2013 FY2012
Honduras 34% 30% 27%
Guatemala 32% 37% 34%
El Salvador 29% 26% 27%
Mexico <2% 3% 8%
All other countries <3% 5% 4%

The demographic breakdown changed slightly from previous years, with an increase in the number of female unaccompanied children, and also in the number of children under 14 years of age.

  Males Females <14 years
FY2014 66% 34% 27%
FY2013 73% 27% 24%
FY2012 77% 23% 17%

ORR Responsibilities:

  • Making and implementing placement decisions for the unaccompanied children
  • Ensuring that the interests of the child are considered in decisions related to the care and custody of unaccompanied children
  • Providing home assessments for certain categories of unaccompanied children at risk
  • Conducting follow-up services for certain categories of children
  • Overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of ORR-funded 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 unaccompanied children
  • Providing training to federal, state, and local officials who have substantive contact with unaccompanied children
  • 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 unaccompanied children receive legal orientation presentations
  • Ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that all unaccompanied children in custody have access to legal representation or counsel
  • Releasing unaccompanied children to 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 unaccompanied children access legal representation to the greatest extent possible and practicable, ORR coordinates a legal access project. The legal access project provides children with presentations on their rights, conducts individualized legal screenings, and builds pro bono legal representation capacity. Many unaccompanied children meet conditions that make them eligible for legal relief to remain in the United States including, but not limited to 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 crime; or adjustment of status for those who have a legal resident or citizen family member.

In addition to the legal access project, ORR announced a program expansion to support the need for legal services for unaccompanied children after their release from the custody of ORR, by awarding additional funds to two existing grantees to hire attorneys to provide legal representation to approximately 2,600 unaccompanied children.

Interim Final Rule on UC Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an interim final rule on standards to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse and sexual harassment involving unaccompanied children (UC).  This rule is the first regulation to comprehensively address the issues of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care provider facilities nationwide.  The standards build upon and enhance existing state and local laws, regulations, and licensing standards.

This rule was posted in the Federal Register on Wednesday, December 24th, and the public will have an opportunity to comment on the standards for 60 days.

The interim final rule’s publication in the Federal Register may be found here: https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-29984

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