MPI Report Outlines Opportunities for U.S.Government Agencies and Community Service Providers to Strengthen Post-Release Services for Unaccompanied Children
WASHINGTON — While much recent attention has centered on the rising arrivals of unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border and their conditions of care in federal custody, far less focus is being given to what happens once they are released to parents or other sponsors in communities across the United States.
These children and their families may have critical service needs as they await immigration proceedings, enroll in school and more broadly transition to life in new environments. Yet only a minority receive post-release case management or legal services, according to a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, Strengthening Services for Unaccompanied Children in U.S. Communities.
Based on interviews with 31 service providers in 16 states and Washington, DC, the report provides an overview of federal post-release services—which have long been viewed as needing improvement—and discusses ongoing gaps in meeting the minors’ legal, educational, mental health and other needs. The report finds that while federal follow-up services for unaccompanied minors have been historically limited, community providers have played a crucial role identifying flexible and innovative solutions, including through:
- Programs aimed at strengthening familial relationships after the end of the “honeymoon” period of reunification between unaccompanied child and relative by facilitating increased understanding, communication and cooperation
- Non-governmental organizations partnering with pro bono attorney networks to provide unaccompanied children with legal representation
- Schools partnering with nonprofit organizations to bring culturally sensitive non-academic services to students
- Efforts to incorporate trauma-informed care into educational, health and legal services.
The report outlines key recommendations for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), state and local governments, and community providers to strengthen federal and community post-release services, particularly at a time when the federal government is seeking to expedite the release of children from custody. Among the recommendations:
- The federal government should ensure that at least 90 days of case management is available to all unaccompanied children leaving federal custody, and that access to legal services — through both pro bono assistance and direct representation — is available to all unaccompanied children
- ORR should require case consultations between shelter staff and post-release service providers to strengthen continuity of care
- States, localities and philanthropic organizations should identify service gaps and seek to provide funding to fill them
- State and local education agencies should initiate a review of barriers to school enrollment for unaccompanied children, determine where additional policy or guidance is needed to minimize those barriers and develop points of contact for when problems arise in school enrollment.
“In some respects, a period in which the federal government is facing considerable challenges from increased numbers of arriving unaccompanied migrant children may seem a less-than-ideal time to expand post-release services, but in fact, it is a particularly appropriate time to do so,” the authors conclude. “It can lead to better outcomes for arriving children and for the communities in which they will live while awaiting immigration proceedings.”
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/services-unaccompanied-children-us-communities.
Get U.S., state and top county data on unaccompanied minor releases to sponsors between 2014 and 2019 with our interactive data tool: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/unaccompanied-children-released-sponsors-state-and-county.
For all of MPI’s work on unaccompanied children, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/us-immigration-policy-program/rising-child-migration-united-states.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.