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New Report Offers Recommendations to Improve Access to Mental and Medical Health Services for Unaccompanied Children
Press Release
Monday, April 24, 2023

New Report Offers Recommendations to Improve Access to Mental and Medical Health Services for Unaccompanied Children

Report finds Unaccompanied Children Face Significant Barriers to Care

WASHINGTON, DC and ITASCA, IL — A new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) finds that most unaccompanied minors face significant barriers to accessing the medical and mental health services that are critical to their ability to thrive once they leave federal custody. The report comes more than a decade into a pattern of rising migration to the United States of children traveling without a parent or legal guardian.

The report, A Path to Meeting the Medical and Mental Health Needs of Unaccompanied Children in U.S. Communities, details a range of barriers to care. These include deficiencies in federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) policies and practices as unaccompanied children transition from its care and head to communities across the United States, inability to enroll in public health insurance in most states due to legal status and missed opportunities by resource-limited schools and community organizations to identify and help meet the children's health-related needs.

Drawing from interviews with more than 100 clinicians, social workers, educators, legal service providers, community organization leaders and others working with unaccompanied children in Houston, Los Angeles and New Orleans, the report offers recommendations on the ways that governments, health systems, schools and communities can improve access to medical and mental health care for these minors, most of whom likely have experienced trauma. It also spotlights promising practices in the communities visited.

The report offers a range of recommendations for ORR and other stakeholders that interact with unaccompanied children, including:

  • Improving ORR's information-sharing about children’s health conditions observed while in federal custody with those caring for the children upon their release.
  • Providing medical and mental health case management for all children following release for at least a year.
  • Expanding funding at federal, state and local levels to train more trauma-informed mental health clinicians with language and cultural backgrounds that match those of the children.
  • Bringing appropriate medical and mental health services into the community.
  • Helping ensure all students and their families have access to affordable health care, including by allowing all low-income unaccompanied children to be eligible for public health insurance as soon as they leave ORR custody.
  • Screening all new students for social determinants of health and connecting them to resources and referrals as needed.

“Achieving the societal goal of ensuring that all children in the United States reach their full potential necessitates policies and practices that are designed specifically for unaccompanied children,” report authors Jonathan Beier and Karla Fredricks write.

“Implementing these recommendations would go far toward maximizing their physical, mental and emotional health, as all children deserve. By helping unaccompanied children reach their full potential, such policies would also be of great benefit to the families, schools, and communities they join.”

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/medical-mental-health-needs-unaccompanied-children.

For data on releases of unaccompanied children to sponsors by state and county from fiscal year 2014 to the present, click here.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults.​

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.