ORR Unaccompanied Children Program Policy Guide


The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Children Program provides a safe and appropriate environment to children and youth who enter the United States without immigration status and without a parent or legal guardian who is able to provide for their physical and mental well-being (referred to as “unaccompanied children”). In most cases, unaccompanied children are apprehended by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials and then transferred to the care and custody of ORR.

ORR funds residential care providers that provide temporary housing and other services to unaccompanied children in ORR custody.  These care provider facilities are State licensed and must meet ORR requirements to ensure a high level quality of care. They provide a continuum of care for children, including placements in ORR foster care, group homes, shelter, staff secure, secure, and residential treatment centers. The care providers provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, access to legal services, and case management.

ORR and its care providers work to ensure that children are released timely and safely from ORR custody to parents, other family members, or other adults (often referred to as “sponsors”) who can care for the child’s physical and mental well-being.  Unaccompanied children remain in ORR’s care and custody until they are released to a parent or other sponsor in the United States, are repatriated to their home country, obtain legal status, or turn 18 years old, at which time they are transferred to the custody of DHS.

1.1 Summary of Policies for Placement and Transfer of Unaccompanied Children in ORR Care Provider Facilities

The majority of unaccompanied children (UC) come into ORR custody because they were apprehended by border patrol officers with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while trying to enter the United States without legal authorization. DHS (and in rare circumstances other federal agencies) may refer unaccompanied children to ORR’s care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

ORR has procedures in place to obtain background information on the unaccompanied child from the referring federal agency to assess whether the unaccompanied child is a danger to self or others, whether there are any known medical and/or mental health issues, and whether other special concerns or needs are known, and then to designate an available care provider. ORR uses this information to determine an appropriate placement in the least restrictive setting for the unaccompanied child.

ORR policies for placing children and youth in its custody into care provider facilities are based on legal requirements as well as child welfare best practices in order to provide a safe environment and place the child in the least restrictive setting appropriate for the child’s needs. ORR may place a child in a shelter facilityfoster care or group home (which may be therapeutic), staff secure or secure care facilityresidential treatment center, or other special needs care facility, including an out-of-network facility (OON) (see Section 1.4.6 Residential Treatment Center and Out-of-Network Placements).

There are two types of placement decisions:  (1) the initial placement into a care provider facility or setting and (2) transfer placement between care providers. Although the circumstances and procedures for initial placement and transfer vary, ORR applies the same child welfare principles in its decision-making process.

The referring federal agency generally transports the unaccompanied child to the ORR care provider.

ORR takes custody of the unaccompanied child when the child or youth physically arrives at the designated ORR care provider.

Revised 10/27/22

2.1 Summary of the Safe and Timely Release Process

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has policies and procedures in place to ensure unaccompanied children in ORR care are released in a safe, efficient, and timely manner. ORR’s policies require the release of unaccompanied children to parents, guardians, relatives, or individuals designed by the child’s parents, referred to as “sponsors.” Safe and timely release (also known as “family reunification”) must promote public safety and ensure that sponsors are able to provide for the physical and mental well-being of children.

ORR evaluates potential sponsors’ ability to provide for the child’s physical and mental well-being, as required by law. ORR also protects children from smugglers, traffickers, or others who might seek to victimize or otherwise engage the child in criminal, harmful or exploitative activity. The process for the safe and timely release of an unaccompanied child from ORR custody involves several steps, including: the identification of sponsors; sponsor application; interviews; the assessment (evaluation) of sponsor suitability, including verification of the sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child (if any), background checks, and in some cases home studies; and post-release planning.

Revised 6/18/19


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