Educational Supports and Experiences in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program: Findings from a Descriptive Study

Publication Date: May 12, 2021
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  • Pages: 27
  • Published: 2021


Research Questions

  1. How do local URM programs provide education services to youth in the URM Program?
  2. How do youth in the URM Program experience education in the United States?
  3. What promising strategies do URM programs and education partners use to support URM youth in education and help them overcome challenges they may face?

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) Program serves refugees and other eligible youth within the United States who do not have a parent or relative available to care for them. Youth enter the URM Program with a variety of prior learning experiences, needs, and long-term educational goals. URM youth rely on their URM provider and local education systems to gain the skills, support networks, and credentials they need in pursuit of self-sufficiency.

This report summarizes findings related to education services and experiences in educational settings from the Descriptive Study of the URM Program. Findings come from the perspectives of URM program staff and education service providers, as well as focus groups with foster parents and URM youth. These findings are relevant to those involved in operating the URM Program and others who serve youth who are recent immigrants, in the foster care system, or youth who have experienced disruptions to their formal education.

To provide educational support to URM youth, URM providers employ creative solutions that leverage local resources and URM youth’s strengths. URM programs identified a number of promising approaches for providing tailored education services to URM youth, including hiring staff who share lived experience and languages with URM youth, providing opportunities for URM youth to mentor and socialize with others who share similar experiences, and enlisting support from foster parents and community-based organizations.


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Existing research points to the importance of education for vulnerable populations whose needs overlap with those of URM youth, including refugees, immigrants, and foster youth. However, there is a gap in the field’s understanding of how to best support URM youth specifically in education settings. To contribute to addressing this research gap, this report describes educational experiences and outcomes of youth served through the URM Program, including experiences of URM youth in school settings, services provided to the youth, and challenges and successes in providing these services.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Youth enter the URM Program with a variety of past educational experiences and high levels of need. The most common and pressing needs include English Language Learning (ELL) services and support navigating the structure and rules of U.S. schools. Many URM youth face challenges graduating high school before aging out of eligibility for public high school in their state.
  • Education is a priority for many URM youth, but some prioritize employment instead. URM case managers encourage and support youth in working toward long-term education and career goals. URM program staff, community partners, and foster parents described URM youth as highly motivated and resilient in their pursuit of education. However, some URM youth prioritize employment over school because they are eager to provide financial support to family in their home countries.
  • Public schools vary in their ability to tailor services to URM youth. All public schools are federally required to offer some form of ELL services to students who need them, but the quality of ELL programs and capacity for additional supportive services varies throughout communities and school districts.
  • Many URM youth reported positive social experiences in school. Across sites visited by the research team, URM youth described school environments as welcoming and supportive. URM youth said they enjoyed many aspects of school, including making friends and participating in extracurricular activities and sports.


The report draws from qualitative data collected through site visits to six URM programs, in which the research team conducted semi-structured interviews with URM program staff and community partners, as well as focus groups with URM youth and URM foster parents. This report also incorporates findings from analysis of administrative data and original surveys of URM program directors, State Refugee Coordinators, and child welfare administrators.


Rodler, L. (2021). Educational Supports and Experiences in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program: Findings from a Descriptive Study, OPRE Report #2021-37 Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Unaccompanied Refugee Minor