Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions

Publication Date: July 9, 2018


Frequently Asked Questions

The Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program provides UC with a safe and appropriate environment and the highest quality of care. Our goal is to help the UC’s succeed both while in care and after discharge from the program, either to sponsors in the U.S. or in returning to their home country.

Q: How do ORR permanent shelters affect our community?

A: The impact on the local community is minimal. Shelters are operated by non-profit organizations. About half of our shelters care for fewer than 50 unaccompanied children. These shelters are consistently quiet and good neighbors in the communities where they are located.

ORR pays for and provides all services for the children while they are in care at a shelter. This includes providing food, clothing, education, medical screening, and any needed medical care to the children. Children spend fewer than 45 days on average at the shelters and do not integrate into the local community. They remain under staff supervision at all times.

Q: Do these children pose a health risk?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that the UC arriving at U.S. borders pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the general public.

Countries in Central America, where most of the unaccompanied children are from (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), have childhood vaccination programs, and most children have received some childhood vaccines. However, they may not have received a few vaccines, such as chickenpox, influenza, and pneumococcal vaccines. As a precaution, ORR is providing vaccinations to all children who do not have documentation of previous valid doses of vaccine.

UC receive an initial screening for visible and obvious health issues (for example, lice, rashes, diarrhea, and cough) when they first arrive at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Onsite medical staff are available at CBP facilities to provide support, and referrals are made to a local emergency room for additional care, if needed. UC must be considered “fit to travel” before they are moved from the border patrol station to an ORR shelter.

UC receive additional, more thorough medical screening and vaccinations at ORR shelter facilities. If UC are found to have certain communicable diseases, they are separated from other children and treated as needed. The cost of medical care for UC while they are in ORR custody is paid by the federal government.

Q: Are communities safe with these kids in it? There are rumors that some kids are gang members.

A: Many UC are fleeing violent situations in their home country and choose to leave rather than join a gang. They endure a long and dangerous journey to reach the border. When they are placed in a standard shelter, they are, as a rule, relieved to be in a safe and caring environment where they can wait for a sponsor to arrive to take custody.

UC in ORR custody do not integrate into the local community. They are not permitted to visit the local town or area attractions unless supervised by approved staff. Each staff member is required to maintain visibility on UC at all times and know the exact location of each child.

Q: How can individuals or communities help?

A: The Federal agencies supporting these facilities are unable to accept donations or volunteers to assist the UC program. However, there are several voluntary, community, faith-based, or international organizations assisting UC.

Several refugee resettlement non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the U.S. are accepting monetary donations and, in some cases, experienced volunteers to assist incoming refugee families, although not specifically unaccompanied children, in support of the effort of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program at the State Department. Information, by state, for refugee resettlement NGOs can be found at the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center (RPC) webpage or the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) .

Q: How much does it cost to take care of the unaccompanied children?

A: The FY17 appropriation for this program is $948 million.

Q: Can I foster or adopt one or more of the unaccompanied children?

A: We have grantees in various parts of the United States who care for a small number of UC in foster home settings, and many providers are looking to expand their number of foster parents, particularly ones who are bilingual. ORR requires that all foster care parents be fully licensed by their state. If you are not already licensed, you could begin by contacting one of the foster care providers who care for UC, such as United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) who have provided foster care to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children for many years.

Q: Are children who arrived as unaccompanied children ever enrolled in local schools?

A: While students are in HHS custody at HHS shelters, they will not be enrolled in the local school systems. When students are released to an appropriate sponsor, while awaiting immigration proceedings, they have a right — just like other children living in their community — to enroll in local schools regardless of their or their sponsors’ actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. State laws also require children to attend school up to a certain age. A small number of UC in HHS custody are placed in long-term foster care instead of being released to a sponsor. These children do enroll in public school in the community where their foster care is located. UC in all other care settings receive education at an HHS facility. For more information about local educational agencies and unaccompanied children, please visit: www.ed.gov/unaccompaniedchildren

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