ORR Guide to Eligibility, Placement, and Services for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM): Section 2

Publication Date: September 17, 2021

Section 2: Placement and Capacityi

Section 2 of the URM policy guide provides guidance on the following topics: establishing legal responsibility, placements, interstate movement, state planning and submissions, capacity development, and reporting requirements.  If a stateii desires to deviate from a specific section of this policy, it may request a variance from ORR through the state plan approval process.

2.1    Standards

In order for minors to enter into the URM program and flourish once in URM care, the development of sufficient placement capacity, appropriate placement options, and clear and efficient procedures for making placement decisions is critical.

  1. States provide leadership to place and serve all URM children and youth regardless of their ethnicity, race, color, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, and category of eligible population as outlined in section 1.1.
  2. States ensure that URM children and youth can access the same range of placement options as domestic foster care children and youth in their respective state.
  3. States and licensed child placing agencies select placements that are in the best interests of URM children and youth, meet their specific needs, and meet state standards.
  4. States can place URM children and youth until age 18 or higher age as prescribed in the state’s IV-B plan for foster care, including through extended foster care or supervised independent living (SIL).
  5. 5. States ensure capacity development efforts reflect the characteristics and needs of the minors being referred for URM care, allow for prompt and appropriate placement for incoming referrals, and align with priorities identified and communicated by ORR.

2.2    Establishing Legal Responsibility

States must ensure that legal responsibility (e.g., guardianship, conservatorship, etc.) is established promptly in accordance with state law for each minor who enters the URM program. Specifically, within 30 days of a minor’s arrival to a URM program, the state or its designee must petition an appropriate court to establish legal responsibility, if action by a court is required by state law.

If the state is required to petition a court to establish legal responsibility, the state or its designee must ensure that the petition is filed under a section of state law which designates a legal authority to act in place of the minor’s unavailable parent(s), and would make the minor eligible for the full range of assistance, care, and services to which all domestic foster care children in the state are entitled. With approval from ORR through the state plan process, a state may designate an entity (e.g., state child welfare agency, county, URM provider agencyiii ) to petition the court for legal responsibility.

The requirement that states establish legal responsibility also extends to an unaccompanied child (UC) who is already present in the URM program location at the time of URM approval. For more information about the approval and transition of a UC into the URM program, see sections 1.7 and 1.8.

If a state allows for any alternate process to establish legal responsibility (e.g., providing care through a voluntary placement agreement for a child without proper guardianship), a state must describe this process in its state plan submission, and ensure compliance with the state’s criteria and procedures.

2.3    Placements

When making placement decisions, states must follow state licensing regulations and standards. States must also ensure that placements are made by licensed child placing agencies.

2.3.1 Placement Authority and Roles

States must ensure that there is a clear and efficient process in the state for making placement decisions, both for initial referrals from ORR and for any subsequent placements for URM children and youth; this process must be in writing. Written procedures should identify the roles of placement stakeholder(s) (e.g., state, county, URM provider agency, group home) in the following activities for all placements:

  1. Assessing placement options for a child or youth, and developing a list of potential appropriate placements;
  2. Developing a plan for accessing appropriate services, if needed to ensure viability of a placement; and
  3. Vetting of and deciding on the most appropriate placement available for the URM child or youth.

Additionally, in a case stemming from an initial referral from ORR to the state or its designee, the state must develop and maintain written procedures that specifically address the roles of placement stakeholder(s) (e.g., state, county, URM provider agency, group home) including:

  1. A timely and efficient review and response to an application referred via RADS; and
  2. A proposed placement to ORR through the submission of a placement assurance memo via RADS. For more information regarding the contents of a placement assurance memo, see section 1.5.4. For more information regarding ORR’s approval of initial placements, see section 1.7.

Additionally, due to the significant need to place minors rapidly, states must develop an alternative, streamlined process to review and respond to urgent referrals submitted by ORR. States must include this expedited process in its written procedures.

After a minor’s initial placement into the URM program, and after legal responsibility has been established, the custodian of the child or youth, or the custodian’s designee, is able to make placement decisions as defined by the state in the state’s written procedures and according to state laws. After legal responsibility has been established, ORR does not have authority to approve or disapprove placement decisions for a URM child or youth.

2.3.2 Placement Decisions

In making a placement decision, a state or its designee should conduct an individualized assessment of the URM child or youth to determine their needs. The state or its designee should meet the following standards when making a placement:

  1. Ensure a placement is in the best interests of a URM child or youth;
  2. Assess available placements, and choose a placement that addresses the URM child or youth’s unique needs for care, and enables the child or youth to access appropriate social, health and educational services;
  3. Identify a placement for a URM child or youth in the least restrictive environment; and
  4. Consider placing the child or youth with their sibling(s).

See section 2.3.3 regarding whether to consider race, color, national origin, or ethnicity in making placement decisions. If a placement is not readily available that best meets the needs of the URM child or youth (e.g., residential treatment), the state or its designee should immediately explore options and identify the most appropriate available placement to address the child or youth’s needs.

2.3.3 Consideration of Race, Color, and National Origin iv

A state or its designee should make a placement for a URM child or youth after an individualized assessment of what is in the best interests of the URM child or youth, as outlined in section 2.3.2. Individualized assessments may consider the URM child or youth’s race, color, national origin and ethnicity.

Choosing to place a URM child or youth in a placement based solely on race, color, national origin, or ethnicity is prohibited. States and URM provider agencies should never delay placing or moving a URM child or youth in order to search or secure a placement (e.g., foster family) with a similar race, color, or national origin as the URM child or youth. Nor shall a state or URM provider agency deny a foster family from fostering a URM child or youth based on race, color, or national origin.

2.3.4 Placement Options

A state or its designee must maintain, or have access to, a range of suitable placement options. These placements must include the same range of placement options as are available to domestic foster youth. As states use different terminology, definitions, and criteria for the administration of placements, variations exist across the national URM network. States must utilize the following five categories, or placement types, and definitions for the purpose of reporting on capacity and placements to ORR:

  1. Foster Family Home — Meets the standards established for licensing or approval by the state and is provided a regular foster care maintenance rate. Youth placed in foster family homes do not require the additional care or treatment provided by therapeutic foster homes. Foster family homes may include relative/kinship foster care placements or agency-operated homes with foster parents who are employees of the URM provider agency.
  2. Therapeutic Foster Home — Licensed at a therapeutic level by the state and/or meet criteria in the state’s agreement with the URM provider agency as a therapeutic foster home. Therapeutic foster home parents have received additional training to meet the needs of youth with mental health or behavioral health needs, in a family setting. Youth placed in therapeutic foster homes require emotional or behavioral therapeutic interventions and a higher level of care than is provided in a conventional foster family home, but do not require placement in a more restrictive setting. Therapeutic foster homes typically receive higher maintenance rates than conventional foster family homes.
  3. Group Home — The term “group home” includes therapeutic group homes and transitional group homes.
    • Therapeutic group homes provide on-site treatment planning and services in a non-secure setting for children or youth with significant emotional or behavioral problems who have the capacity to engage in community-based activities. Treatment services typically include individual and group therapy/counseling, behavior modification, recreational therapy, or skill building. Therapeutic group homes offer a less restrictive environment than residential treatment, but are more restrictive than therapeutic foster homes. Therapeutic group homes have around-the-clock onsite staffing and are located in the community where residents attend local schools.
    • Transitional group homes provide mostly independent living skill-building services that focus on the transition to adulthood. Transitional group homes may or may not have around-the-clock staffing onsite.
  4. Supervised Independent Living (SIL) — Youth placed in SIL may not be supervised 24 hours a day, but an agency or adult is responsible and accountable for the youth’s wellbeing and safety. Youth may continue to receive case management services and be given increased responsibilities for managing their own living arrangements (e.g., paying bills, assuming leases, and working with a landlord). SIL may also be referred to as semi-independent living.
  5. Residential Treatment — A live-in, health care facility that provides therapeutic services for mental illness, substance abuse, and/or behavioral issues in a secure and/or restrictive setting for children or youth who, because of the severity of their issues, are unable to adjust to other placements, but do not require inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. Residential treatment may include crisis stabilization, initial and continuing bio-psychosocial assessment, care management, medication management, therapy and mobilization of family support and community resources in the context of a comprehensive multidisciplinary treatment plan. Residential treatment facilities develop plans for children or youth to step down into a lesser restrictive, non-secure setting once treatment goals are met.

For additional information regarding the range of placements a state must provide, see section 2.5.2.

Note: When ORR allows partial or full funding to be used for any of the above placement categories in order to maintain available placement capacity, states must maximize these placements while ensuring that each placement decision is in a child or youth’s best interest, in accordance with section 2.3.2. ORR funding may be available beyond the first 2 weeksv, provided that an on-going individualized assessment, as defined in section 2.3.2, indicates that the placement is appropriate to meet the special needs of the child or youth.

2.3.5 Extension of Foster Care and Access to Supervised Independent Living Placements

Due to the older median age of the URM population, and the financial resources dedicated to extended foster care and SIL placements, ORR would like to specifically address these placements. States must follow applicable state criteria (i.e., criteria relating to age, education, employment, medical need) and procedures for extended foster care and SIL, when administering extended foster care or SIL placements funded by ORR.

If permissible under state law and procedures, states may designate the administration of extended foster care and SIL placements to a subrecipient (e.g., URM provider agency).

States must have a written plan that includes rules and procedures for the administration and financial oversight of extended foster care and SIL placements. States must define the eligibility criteria for extended foster care and SIL, and describe its plan for administering or overseeing the administration of such placements in its state plan.

2.3.6 Placement Rate Setting and Financial Oversight

States must diligently oversee placement costs. States must have a system in place for determining appropriate maintenance rates for children or youth, especially when rates vary based on level of need.

When setting maintenance rates, states must start with state rates for comparable levels of care provided to domestic foster youth. States may increase maintenance rates to compensate foster parents for the effort and cost of meeting the special needs of URM children or youth (e.g., cultural orientation, language capacity, disrupted education, adjustment to the U.S.). States must keep written justification on file for any such increase over the rates offered to foster parents for domestic foster youth in the state, at a comparable level of care.

A state or its designee must periodically, at a minimum semi-annually, reassess, and appropriately adjust, levels of care and maintenance rates (e.g., during the child or youth’s semi-annual review).

2.3.7 Review of Placement

Pursuant to 45 CFR §§ 400.117 and 400.118, a state or its designee must ensure the periodic review of a placement; specifically, a child or youth’s placement should be reviewed at least once every 6 months. The purpose of the review is to ensure the safety of the child or youth, and the appropriateness of the placement. Courts, administrative bodies, or third-party independent reviewers can conduct a placement review. The state must outline its review of placement process in its state plan.

If the designated reviewer determines that a child or youth is not in an appropriate placement, the reviewer should promptly notify the state or entity with legal responsibility (i.e., when the state does not hold legal responsibility) of the findings. The state or its designee must make robust efforts to facilitate a prompt transition into an appropriate placement (i.e., stepping down a youth from residential treatment to a less restrictive setting).

2.3.8 Placement Changes

States should make every effort to minimize placement changes and provide stability to URM children and youth. ORR recognizes that some URM children or youth have experienced significant trauma that may contribute to placement disruptions. ORR recognizes and supports stabilizing placements if possible with extra supports (e.g., wrap around services, respite) or moving the child to a higher level of care (e.g., therapeutic foster home, residential treatment), if it is in the best interest of a child or youth.

States must track the following information, and make it available to ORR during monitoring or upon request:

  1. For children or youth placed in residential treatment or a therapeutic group home during their time in the URM program, the length of time to step down into a less restrictive placement. States may exclude transitional group home placements for which the main purpose is supporting a youth’s transition to independence.
  2. Children or youth with three or more placements during their time in the URM program. Exclude respite care not exceeding 30 days, hospitalizations not exceeding 2 weeks, planned transitions into SIL, and any changes of address that occur after a youth is in SIL.

2.3.9 Return to Care

If state law or policy allows a youth who has left domestic foster care after the age of 18 to return to care, the state must allow URM youth to exercise the same option. States must follow state law, policy, criteria and procedures, in making case-specific decisions regarding return to care.

2.4    Interstate Movement

Once the state or its designee establishes legal responsibility, if it becomes apparent that the child or youth’s permanency goal or needs require a move out of state (i.e., to a relative’s home, transfer to another URM program, residential treatment), the same procedures that govern the movement of domestic foster care cases to other states apply to URM cases. Each state has an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) office and administrator. States and their designees are expected to work with their ICPC offices on out-of-state placements for URM children and youth until the child or youth reaches the age of majority as defined by applicable state law (e.g., 18 years old in some states, 21 years old in some states).

If a decision is made to transfer a URM child or youth from one state URM program to another, complete with a change in legal responsibility, the states involved must contact ORR for assistance.

For URM youth who are at or have passed the age of majority as defined by applicable state law, the ICPC does not apply. However, if a URM youth has passed the age of majority and desires to leave the state (e.g., for work, to attend college), states or their designees should follow the same state procedures and policies that govern the movement of domestic foster care youth who have passed the age of majority.

2.5    Capacity Development

In order to comply with section 2.3, states must develop and maintain the capacity to place URMs in a range of placements. Further, the URM program serves a diverse array of children and youth who represent various countries of origin, ethnicities, and religions. URM children and youth have different language capacities, mental health needs, physical health needs, migration journeys, and life experiences. Their access to services, benefits, and work vary with immigration status or category and employment authorization. Therefore, in addition to ensuring that URMs have the same range of placements as domestic foster care children and youth, each state must develop capacity that reflects this diversity.

In addition, eligible minors for the URM program often require placement on an expedited basis due to their risk of aging out, or because their acquisition of immigration status or category triggers an exit from federal custody. Each state must develop the capacity to receive minors on short notice.

2.5.1 Capacity Development Priorities

A state or its designee must:

  1. Develop and update capacity and program development plans as needed, in order to provide appropriate placements (i.e., placements that can serve the age, language, immigration status or category, mental health needs, etc.) for incoming populations;
  2. Identify placements that are able to receive minors on short notice;
  3. Develop and maintain capacity proposed to ORR via the ORR-1 annual budget estimate process; and
  4. Align with capacity priorities identified and communicated by ORR.

2.5.2 Range of Placement

Pursuant to 45 CFR § 400.116(a), a state must provide to URM children and youth the same range of child welfare benefits and services available to domestic foster care children and youth in that state. Thus, URM children and youth must have the same range of placement options available to them as domestic foster care children and youth. (See section 2.3.4 for a description of placement options.) Ensuring a range of placement is important both for providing a continuum of care to URM children or youth already in a state’s URM program, as well as for providing initial placement options for minors approved to enter the URM program.

To ensure capacity, a state may arrange various placements through its designee(s). Additionally, a state should develop relationships and agreements, through the refugee office, state child welfare agency, or URM provider agency, with other child placing agencies or SIL providers in the state, to facilitate access to additional, as-needed placement options on a case-by-case basis, to meet the needs of individual children or youth.

2.5.3 Diligent Recruitment

In order to timely and appropriately place URM children and youth, states must ensure URM provider agencies pro-actively recruit an adequate pool of foster families that are able to promote the child or youth’s well-being and case goals.

States and URM provider agencies should recruit any qualified families regardless of race, color, or national origin. States and URM provider agencies must also conduct targeted recruitment of families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of current and projected populations of URM children and youth, as conveyed by ORR. States should also consider other characteristics (e.g., religion, language) of URM children and youth requiring placement in the program when conducting recruitment of foster families.

States and URM provider agencies should develop recruitment strategies and facilitate recruitment in accordance with federal and state criteria.

2.6    State Planning

Every year states who administer a URM program should consult with ORR to understand the network’s incoming populations, the overall need for placements, and ORR’s capacity priorities. A state must also confer with its designee(s) to explore options to expand placement capacity, if necessary, to meet ORR’s capacity priorities, and establish the number of children and youth who can be served in the coming year within the state.

During the annual planning process, a state should confer with its designee(s) and other key stakeholders in the state’s URM program, ensuring consideration of each URM site or sub-site on the following topics:

  1. Alignment between proposed and actual caseload (average per month, new arrivals, and types of cases) and capacity (placement options and numbers) in the past year;
  2. Trends in referrals not accepted/assured;
  3. The process in the state for reviewing referrals and placing new URM cases, including efficiency and timeliness of responses to ORR referrals;
  4. Changes in capacity and/or program development needed to meet ORR’s capacity priorities and ensure that all populations eligible for the URM program can benefit from placement and services in the state; and
  5. Projections for average monthly caseload, types of cases, anticipated terminations, and the number of new cases to be served in the next fiscal year.

2.7    Reporting

2.7.1 State Plan

In order to receive funding for the URM program, states must describe placement options available to URM children and youth in its state plan. For more information on the requisite placement and capacity related factors, refer to the state plan template (PDF).

2.7.2 ORR-1

States must annually submit an ORR-1 budget estimate that includes the number of URM children and youth it proposes to serve in the upcoming federal fiscal year. A state must submit written justification for the various placement types used in its projections. Additionally, states must also justify foster care maintenance rates that exceed the rates offered to domestic foster parents for a comparable level of care. For more information on how to submit an ORR-1 estimate, refer to the ORR-1 instructions (PDF).

2.7.3 ORR-6

On a semi-annual basis, states must update ORR on newly developed placement capacity by submitting the ORR-6 Schedule E URM Program Data Report. States should provide context to this placement data in the ORR-6 Schedule E URM Program Narrative Report. For more information on how to submit an ORR-6, refer to the ORR-6 instructions (PDF).

2.7.4 ORR-3

States must ensure URM provider agencies complete the initial ORR-3 report with sufficient time to review and submit the report to ORR within 30 days of a minor’s initial placement in the state’s URM program. States must submit the ORR-3 report through RADS.

States must ensure URM provider agencies complete an ORR-3 report indicating a “change of status” with sufficient time to review and submit the report to ORR within 60 days of a change in legal responsibility or a placement. States must submit the ORR-3 report through RADS.

For more information on how to submit an ORR-3 report, refer to the ORR-3 instructions.


i. This section of the URM policy guide supersedes the 1987 ORR “Statement of Goals, Priorities, Standards, and Guidelines for the Unaccompanied Minor Refugee and Cuban/Haitian Entrant Programs” sections III(A), clauses specifically regarding annual planning and legal responsibility, and IV(C), clauses regarding placements. 
ii. In the URM policy guide, the term “states” also includes Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Replacement Designees (URDs), unless specified otherwise.
iii. A state’s designee includes any entity a state has authorized to implement part of the URM program.  The designee can be a county, child welfare provider or URM provider agency.  For the definition of URM provider agency, see the Introduction, section I.B.
iv. Section 2.3.3 aligns ORR policy with federal child welfare legislation.  ORR guidance in Section IV(C) of the “Statement of Goals, Priorities, Standards, and Guidelines for the Unaccompanied Minor Refugee and Cuban/Haitian Entrant Programs” to place young children in ethnically-matched placements was issued in 1987, and does not conform with subsequent interethnic placement provisions.  For more information, see the Howard M. Metzenbaum Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. § 622(b)(7)) and “Public Law 104-188 Small Business Job Protection Act.” 110 Stat. 1755; Date: 8/20/96 (42 U.S.C. §§ 671, 674).
v. The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), Public Law 115-123, limits funding to 2 weeks for child care institutions (as defined by the FFPSA) not meeting specific criteria for domestic foster children. 

Current as of: