On March 1, 2003, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 462, transferred functions under U.S. immigration laws regarding 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).
The Division of Children’s Services (DCS) program recognizes the importance of providing a safe and appropriate environment for UAC from the time they are placed into ORR custody and are reunified with family members or sponsors in the U.S. or until they are removed to their country of origin by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials. DCS 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.
FACTS ABOUT UNACCOMPANIED ALIEN CHILDREN
UAC leave their country of origin for multiple reasons such as to rejoin family members already in the U.S., to escape abusive family relationships, or to find work to support their families in their country of origin. In fiscal year 2008, the numbers of children in ORR custody and care ranged from approximately 1,050 to 1,400. (Average of 1220) Of those, 77% were male and 23% female; 10% were below the age of 14.
The most common native countries of UAC are El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
SOCIAL SERVICES FACILITIES
The majority of children are cared for through a network of ORR-funded care provider facilities, most of which are located close to areas where immigration officials apprehend large numbers of aliens. There are currently more than 58 ORR-funded care provider facilities in 13 different states.
Care provider facilities are state licensed and must meet ORR requirements to ensure a high level of quality of care. The facilities, which operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management. Care provider facilities clinical and case management teams use effective screening tools to assess UAC for indications of mental health and trafficking issues.
PROJECTS AND PARTNERSHIPS TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF SERVICE
The Division of Children's Services is also responsible for the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program, which provides for the care of refugee minors admitted to the U.S. unaccompanied by a parent or adult relative. Minors who are identified in countries of first asylum as requiring foster care upon arrival in this country are sponsored through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). The children are placed in licensed child welfare programs operated by their local affiliates. Eligible minors may also enter the program through family (a) breakdown, (b) grant of asylum, or (c) certification as a victim of trafficking. Each minor in the care of this program is eligible for the same range of child welfare benefits as non-refugee children in the State, with additional services for the preservation of the minor’s ethnic and religious heritage. When possible, the child is placed in an area with nearby families of the same ethnic background. Depending on their individual needs, the minors are placed in home foster care, group care, independent living, or residential treatment. ORR reimburses costs incurred on behalf of each child until the month after his or her eighteenth birthday or such higher age as is permitted under the State’s plan under title IV-B of the Social Security Act.