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Four Strategies to Improve Community Services for Unaccompanied Children in the United States
Policy Briefs
December 2022

Four Strategies to Improve Community Services for Unaccompanied Children in the United States

When unaccompanied migrant children leave federal custody to live with a parent or other sponsor, the transition into U.S. communities can be difficult for both children and their families. While some support is available through a patchwork of programs from local governments, post-release service providers, and other organizations, their resources and capacity vary widely. These organizations also often lack formal mechanisms to coordinate the services unaccompanied children may receive from different providers. Too often, unaccompanied children’s needs are inadequately addressed, negatively affecting their well-being and longer-term development.

Explore the Data: Unaccompanied Children in U.S. Communities

MPI Data Hub tool on unaccompanied children

This interactive tool shows the number of unaccompanied minors released to sponsors at U.S., state, and top county levels, as well as the state's share of children released from federal custody annually since 2014.

This issue brief offers promising practices and resources for government agencies, community organizations, and funders seeking to improve supports for unaccompanied children transitioning from federal custody into U.S. communities. The brief focuses on four areas: strengthening coordination among government and community-based organizations to improve continuity of care; leveraging the unique role of public schools to connect children with comprehensive support; taking an interdisciplinary approach to program design so that children and their families can more easily benefit from multiple types of specialized, coordinated services; and developing a workforce of skilled, linguistically and culturally competent service providers. This research results from a collaboration between MPI and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that included three roundtables on supporting unaccompanied children’s transitions into U.S. communities.

Table of Contents 


Strategy #1. Improving Interagency Coordination and Communication

Strategy #2. Leveraging the Role of Public Schools to Connect Children with Comprehensive Support

Strategy #3. Using Interdisciplinary Approaches to Address Needs Holistically

Strategy #4. Developing a Diverse and Highly Skilled Workforce in Organizations that Serve Unaccompanied Children