Posted 4 months ago
The Biden administration is seeking to enlist state-licensed shelter and foster care providers that typically serve local child welfare systems to help provide temporary housing for thousands of unaccompanied migrant children.
The initiative, which is already facing pushback in some Republican-led states, is the latest move in the administration’s ongoing struggle to secure enough space to safely accommodate the record number of unaccompanied migrant minors arriving at the southern border.
Last month, U.S. border authorities encountered a record 18,890 unaccompanied children along the southwest border, a 100 percent increase from February. According to the latest data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency responsible for the care of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody, there were 21,272 in its custody as of last Friday.
Recently, HHS has been transferring many of these children from the border to various military bases, convention centers and other large facilities that have been quickly converted into emergency sites capable of housing hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of kids at a time. While generally considered to be better than prolonged detention in overcrowded Border Patrol stations, these temporary facilities are less than ideal conditions for children, particularly those under 12 or with special needs.
“I think all of us would like to see that be as temporary as possible,” said Lisette Burton, chief policy and practice adviser at the Association of Children’s Residential Centers, referring to the administration’s use of convention centers and other facilities that were not designed to house children.
The association is a network made up of member organizations around the country that specialize in services for families and children, including foster care, case management, psychiatric residential treatment and school-based mental health services. While some network members are already federally contracted to provide housing and other services to unaccompanied migrant children, most work primarily within the domestic child welfare system.
But over the last month or so, Burton said, the association, along with a variety of other organizations and agencies at the national, state and local levels, has been working to help the Biden administration identify unused capacity in foster care programs and licensed residential facilities around the country that could potentially house unaccompanied children arriving at the border.
“It was on March 26 when we first put out a call to action to all of our member networks,” she said. “Since then, the response has been tremendous.” As of April 14, Burton said that, based on surveys submitted by provider organizations within the network, “we’re looking at potential capacity to serve approximately 3,000 children, and I’d say at least a third of that has been identified with potential foster family homes.” She predicted that as the effort moves forward into the implementation phase, more providers would likely step up and offer their services.
“While this is certainly in response to the urgent need, I think there is interest, opportunity and an eye toward building a stronger unaccompanied-children program for the long term,” Burton said.
She and others who spoke to Yahoo News about the effort to house unaccompanied children insisted that it wouldn’t take away the capacity of these organizations to provide their normal services.
“I can’t stress that enough,” Burton said. “I think we're all very aware and sensitive to wanting to make sure none of this work happens at the expense of any child or family currently or potentially receiving services through our existing child welfare systems.”
Nonetheless, opponents of the initiative in some Republican-led states have cited that particular concern — along with opposition to Biden’s immigration policies.
Topic: US News
Tags: Joe Biden President Biden Immigration US Mexico Border Migrants