- Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce have submitted a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the heads of the Health and Human Services (HHS), Justice and Homeland Security departments asking how education, health and other services are being providing to unaccompanied children separated from their parents and being held in detention facilities under contract with HHS.
- The letter calls on the Secretary Alex Azar of HHS, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary Kirtsjen Nielsen of Homeland Security to respond by Friday with information on guidelines set for “tender-age” facilities housing infants and toddlers, whether trauma and health services are being provided, and whether school-age children are receiving the educational services required under a 1997 federal court decision known as the Flores settlement.
- The members of Congress also ask how the administration is handling efforts to reunite children — especially those under age five — with their families as soon as possible or place children in transitional foster care if their parents have been deported.
When and if these children are released to sponsors in the U.S., who may or may not be a family member, those who are old enough will enroll in public schools, which have to be prepared to serve children that may have large gaps in their education as well as experiencing emotional trauma. While many districts along the border are accustomed to working with children who face these circumstances, the current immigration situation might create additional challenges.
The House committee members cited news reports of how children are being treated in the detention facilities. Other recent reports, for example, suggest there are not enough staff members in the shelters to adequately care for increasing numbers of traumatized children.
Meanwhile First Lady Melania Trump last week toured a shelter operated by Southwest Key, a nonprofit that contracts with government agencies to operate youth facilities, including immigrant youth and those in the juvenile justice system. The organization operates shelters in Texas, Arizona and California and is seeking approval to open more, but a statement on the its homepage states that it “does not support separating families at the border.”
An email from Education Dive to Lizzie Chen, Southwest Key media contact, asked for information about the educational services provided in the shelters. A response came from the Administration for Children in Families within HHS, which copied material from its website stating that an “unaccompanied alien child must receive a minimum of six hours of structured education, Monday through Friday, throughout the entire year in basic academic areas” and that assessments of children’s academic skills must be conducted within 72 hours of their arrival.