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Congolese Children and Youth: USCCB Network Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program Experiences and Implications

March 1, 2013

While over thousands of Congolese have resettled through the adult resettlement program, the USCCB network has assisted a smaller number of approximately 100 children and youth between 2007 through early 2013. However, Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) from the DRC represent the country of origin of the largest number of overseas arrivals to the URM program network.One of USCCB's roles is to examine trends affecting the URM program and address issues related to capacity development. We wished to understand the individual and program needs for this population in particular, as resettlement of Congolese URMs is expected to continue and increase in the next several years. Between November 2012 and March 2013, USCCB conducted informal interviews with program managers by phone or in person, or received written survey responses from each program. The responses of all twelve network programs are reflected in this synthesis of the collective experience providing resettlement support to the Congolese URMs from 2007 through early 2013. A number of themes emerged from the URM program responses which are described throughout this paper which also reflects the knowledge and experience of USCCB staff in conducting case coordination and placement and capacity development.

Immigration Relief for Children in Federal Foster Care Before and After the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008

December 15, 2012

Thousands of undocumented children attempt to enter the United States every year. For some children, the decision to migrate is made on their behalf, and are brought to the United States by relatives, friends, smugglers or human traffickers. Other children make the decision on their own to cross the border to reunite with family members, seek education or employment, escape a life of poverty and abuse, or flee gang and other violence.The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) began an analysis in 2011 of the journey some of these children take as they navigate the immigration legal system in the United States. In particular, we studied the cases of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services' (DHHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement/Division of Children's Services (ORR/DCS) who had been referred through USCCB/MRS to long-term foster care programs during federal fiscal years 2009 and 2010. All these children were seeking to avoid removal from the United States. The goal of this study was to understand the impact of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 on the legal outcomes of these children and to assess the remaining challenges to fair and timely adjudication of their cases.We found that the passage and implementation of TVPRA 2008 have clearly improved immigration legal outcomes for UAC in ORR/DCS custody. They have also made the process more efficient and easier for children to navigate. Based on the sample, 23 percent more UAC in care are attaining legal status since the enactment of TVPRA 2008. Of even greater significance is the fact that the average time for a child to obtain legal status after entry into long-term foster care has dropped by more than half.These significant improvements indicate that TVPRA 2008 is having the intended effect of affording these vulnerable children additional protections and keeping them from harm. However, to best serve these children and make efficient use of available resources, the process should be strengthened and streamlined even further. This paper makes a number of recommendations for doing this, including:- Provide additional support (funding, recruitment, and training) for legal representation in all areas where UAC are in care.- Make education about Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) a priority for family court judges, immigration judges, attorneys and child advocates.- Develop and support community-based care for children who are still awaiting the outcome of their SIJS application at age 18.

The Changing Face of the Unaccompanied Alien Child: A Portrait of Foreign-Born Children in Federal Foster Care and How to Best Meet Their Needs

December 11, 2012

In June 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) began an analysis of children placed in the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) and Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) foster care programs. To explore the changing face of the children coming into care, USCCB/MRS considered children referred for foster care services from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)/Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) between October 1, 2007, and June 1, 2011. Of the 279 children referred to USCCB/MRS, the sample size for this paper included 98 children from across the study years. The goal of this paper is to inform ORR and other stakeholders about the profile of unaccompanied children entering foster care and how to better serve them and their needs. Through a greater understanding of the changing face of the UAC/URM population, all stakeholders can better shape their organizational capacity development to meet the increasingly complex needs of these children.This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the profile of children coming into federal foster care and how that profile has changed over the years. Across all study years, male referrals dominated, accounting for 65 percent, while 35 percent of the referrals were females. However, in fiscal year 2010, the number of female referrals more than doubled compared to previous years. The average age of children arriving in the United States and being referred to foster care was 16.02 for UAC and 16.38 for URM. The majority of children coming into care migrated from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Children from these countries also reported a high incidence of violence in their home country as a reason for migration. Other reported reasons for migrating remained constant over the study years and included escaping violence in their homes, escaping abusive situations, reuniting with family, and seeking better educational and employment opportunities. However, children also have begun presenting with more complex needs and higher incidences of trauma, mental health issues, and substance use histories. Therefore, it was not surprising to find that about 85 percent of children in the study sample reported having some type of traumatic experience prior to entering ORR custody.Although the majority of trauma experiences occurred when children were in their home country, the number of children who experienced trauma, such as kidnapping or sexual or physical assault, during their journey to the United States increased throughout the study period. Consequently, it was not surprising to find that youth are coming into care with higher incidences of mental health and substance abuse problems. Although the specific mental health disorders remained consistent across the study years, the number of children in the sample with a diagnosed mental health disorder steadily increased, from 13 percent in fiscal year 2008 to 38 percent in fiscal year 2011. Interestingly, half the children identified with a mental health disorder at the time of referral came from Honduras; a majority of those children were male. The study also found a steady increase in reported substance use from 17 percent of the study sample in fiscal year 2008 to 33 percent in fiscal year 2011. Children reported using substances to alleviate mental health symptoms such as depression; however, none of the children received a formal diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence. Further, the study found that the average length of stay for youth in ORR-funded facilities decreased from almost eight months in fiscal year 2008 to less than six and a half months in the beginning months of fiscal year 2011.Children reported alarming stories about witnessing violence or being victims of crime while in their home country or during their journey to the United States. The common diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and adjustment disorder demonstrate that the children had difficulty processing their trauma. Further, while the incidences of children with criminal histories and gang associations coming into care varied over the study period, it appears that children were more likely to be victims of crime and gang violence than perpetrators.RecommendationsEnsure foster care referral documentation includes all pertinent case information.Reviews of documents provided to USCCB/MRS during the foster care referral process revealed that the quality and quantity of information collected varied greatly across ORR-funded facilities and staff. Having a sound understanding of the child's background and trauma history, along with any current behavioral, mental health, or legal immigration case considerations, is vital to ensuring a successful foster care placement.Plan for placements for children close to age 18.The majority of children not placed into foster care were those approaching their eighteenth birthday. When children turn 18 without immigration relief or foster care placement, they are at risk of becoming homeless, exploited, and/or deported. Child welfare standards encourage the use of concurrent permanency planning that involves identifying and working toward a child's primary permanency goal (that is, legal relief) while simultaneously identifying and working on a secondary goal (that is, alternatives to detention if legal relief is not obtained).Increase availability of legal services across UAC foster care network.Consistently over the four years of the study, a number of UAC were not placed in foster care because they were so close to 18 at the time of referral. The availability of legal services for all UAC would ensure they have early representation to pursue immigration relief well before they reach the age of 18, which is especially important for those with complicated cases.Develop continuum of care, including therapeutic and group home options to increase placement match.Developing a continuum of care -- particularly creating more therapeutic and group home options -- is critical in meeting the varying needs of this population and ensuring placement availability for children with high needs. A number of children were not placed due to their behavioral and/or mental health issues. Therefore, it is crucial that ORR and the states support and provide resources for higher levels of care within the URM network.Conduct further research on UAC population.Although trauma, mental health, and substance abuse issues are commonly addressed with children in foster care in the United States, few scholarly articles address points raised in this paper. Similarities exist among children in domestic and federally funded foster care; however, risks associated with the migration journey to the United States add multiple layers for consideration when working with UAC. In particular, further study is recommended on the outcomes of these children once they have transitioned out of ORR custody.

From Identification to Durable Solution: Analysis of the Resettlement of Unaccompanied Refugee Minors to the United States and Recommendations for Best Interest Determinations

July 31, 2011

Internationally, not much is known about unaccompanied refugee children who are identified for third country resettlement and who they are as a group. As the largest resettlement country, the United States resettles more unaccompanied children than any other nation and much can be learned from this group of children's cases. Sharing this information with the international community could inform policies and programs related to the identification of displaced children in need of durable solutions.This USCCB/MRS staff report is intended to assist with educating the international audience about the population of unaccompanied refugee minors identified for refugee resettlement to the United States. It builds upon and compares results from a previous USCCB report. Drawing upon our professional experience with best interest assessments and determinations for unaccompanied/separated children, we also include in this report concrete suggestions regarding best interest determinations in refugee settings. Our hope is that sharing this information will be a helpful tool for those in the international community who are charged with or have the capacity to provide a voice of protection for vulnerable refugee children.For refugee minors unable to resettle with family members or other appropriate caregivers, the United States Refugee Program provides specialized foster care services through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program network. The URM programs are designed to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate foster care and supportive services to refugee children and youth. They originated in the 1980s in response to the needs of unaccompanied refugee children arriving from Southeast Asia; since then, the programs have received almost 13,000 children from countries all over the world. Placement into the URM programs is offered by two national voluntary agencies: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), both of which receive approximately equal numbers of URMs each year.The majority of unaccompanied refugee minors who enter the URM programs are identified overseas by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff, nongovernmental organizations and others. Currently most children who are referred for resettlement into a URM program have had their needs evaluated through a process called a Best Interest Determination (BID). The UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child (2008) states that, "Resettlement to a country other than that of the parents can be in the best interest of the child, if family reunification is neither possible in the place of residence of the parents (for instance, due to safety considerations) nor in the country of asylum, and the child faces serious protection risks which cannot be addressed in the environment of the country of asylum." Often a BID is conducted in an effort to identify a durable solution -- including voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement -- for the child.When a child is referred to USCCB or LIRS for resettlement, a BID is included in the referral documentation. These BIDS are invaluable in understanding the child's history and in making decisions about the best placement option in the U.S. for the child.In 2010, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) conducted an evaluation of Best Interest Determinations for most of the unaccompanied refugee minors who were resettled by USCCB between October 1, 2007 and March 31, 2009. Among the recommendations in that report was the need for greater efforts to identify children in urban settings, the need to conduct BIDs promptly and to be alert to the possibility of trafficking in refugee settings. This report looks at the BIDs and other pre-arrival case information for all of the URMs resettled by USCCB from January 2010 through March 2011. We found some changes from the last report and some areas where we believe there is room for improvement.

A Guide for Legal Advocates Providing Services to Victims of Human Trafficking

November 1, 2004

A Guide for Legal Advocates Providing Services to Victims of Human Trafficking