Unaccompanied Children's Services

August 9, 2012

In accordance with the mission of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which is founded on the belief that new arriving populations have inherent capabilities when given opportunities, ORR/ Division of Children Services/Unaccompanied Alien Children program provides unaccompanied alien children (UAC) with a safe and appropriate environment as well as client-focused highest quality of care to maximize the UAC’s opportunities for success both while in care, and upon discharge from the program to sponsors in the U.S. or return to home country, to assist them in becoming integrated members of our global society.


On March 1, 2003, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 462, transferred responsibilities for the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Since then, ORR has cared for more than 40, 000 UAC, incorporating child welfare values as well as the principles and provisions established by the Flores Agreement in 1997, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorization acts, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005 and 2008.

Unaccompanied alien children (UAC) apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials, are transferred to the care and custody of ORR. ORR makes and implements placement decisions in the best interests of the UAC to ensure placement in the least restrictive setting possible while in federal custody. ORR takes into consideration the unique nature of each UAC’s situation and incorporates child welfare principles when making placement, clinical, case management, and release decisions that are in the best interest of the child.

Facts about UAC

Their youth, their separation from a protective environment or person, and the hazardous journey they embark make UAC especially vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. UAC have multiple, inter-related reasons for undertaking the difficult journey of traveling to the United States. UAC leave their home countries to rejoin family already in the United States, to escape abusive family relationships in their home country, or to find work to support their families in the home country. In Fiscal year 2011, the numbers of children in ORR custody and care ranged from approximately 6,500 to 7,100.

General Statistics of UAC in care in Fiscal Year 2011

Total number of UAC referred: 6,855

  • 77% Males
  • 23% Females
  • The majority are 14 - 17 years of age
  • 17%  are below the age of 14

Most Common Native Countries of UAC in Fiscal Year 2011

  • Guatemala (36%)
  • El Salvador (25%)
  • Honduras (20%)
  • Mexico (12%)
  • Ecuador (3%)
  • Other (4%)

The majority of UAC are cared for through a network of state licensed ORR-funded care providers, most of which are located close to areas where immigration officials apprehend large numbers of aliens. These care provider facilities are state licensed and must meet ORR requirements to ensure a high level of quality of care. They provide a continuum of care for children, including foster care, group homes, shelter, staff secure, secure, and residential treatment centers. The care providers operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, and provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.


  • Making and implementing placement decisions for the UAC
  • Ensuring that the interests of the child are considered in decisions related to the care and custody of UAC
  • Providing home assessments for certain categories of UAC at risk
  • Conducting follow-up services for certain categories of children
  • Overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of ORR-funded UAC care provider facilities
  • Conducting on-site monitoring visits of ORR-funded care provider facilities and ensuring compliance with ORR national care standards
  • Collecting, analyzing, and reporting statistical information on UAC
  • Providing training to federal, state, and local officials who have substantive contact with UACs
  • Developing procedures for age determinations and conducting these determinations along with DHS
  • Granting specific consent for state court jurisdiction over children
  • Cooperating with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to ensure that sponsors of UACs receive legal orientation presentations
  • Ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that all UAC in custody have access to legal representation or counsel
  • Reunifying UAC with qualified sponsors and family members who are determined to be capable of providing for the child's physical and mental well-being

In order to facilitate the access of UAC to legal representation to the greatest extent possible and practicable, ORR coordinates a legal access project. The legal access project provides UAC with presentations on their rights, conducts individualized legal screenings, and builds pro bono legal representation capacity. Many UAC meet conditions that make them eligible for legal relief to remain in the United States including asylum; special visas for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parents or guardian; special visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking and other types of criminal violence; or adjustment of status for those who have a legal resident or citizen family member.

ORR provides family reunification services to UAC to facilitate safe and timely release, and ensure that children are released to family members or other sponsors that can care for the child’s physical and mental well-being. ORR conducts home studies prior to release if safety is in question. ORR also funds follow-up services for at-risk children after release to sponsors from ORR custody.

Contact Information

Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
901 D Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 202.401.9246
Fax: 202.401.1022

Program Resources

ORR/DCS Family Reunification Packet for Sponsors (English/Español)

  • LOPC Overview (DOC 161KB)


  • Authorization for Release of Information (DOC 40KB)
  • Digital Fingerprint Instructions for Sponsors (DOC 30KB)
  • Family Reunification Application (DOC 37KB)
  • Family Reunification Checklist for Sponsors (DOC 35KB)
  • Family Reunification Packet Cover Letter (DOC 85KB)
  • Sponsor Care Agreement (DOC 33KB)
  • Sponsor Handbook (PDF 1.4MB)
  • Letter of Designation for Care of a Minor (DOC 30KB)


  • Autorización para la Divulgación de Información (DOC 41KB)
  • Instrucciones Sobre la Toma de Huellas Digitales Para Patrocinadores (DOC 32KB)
  • Solicitud de Reunificación Familiar (DOC 39KB)
  • Solicitud de Reunificación Familiar Carta Adjunta (DOC 84KB)
  • Lista de Control de la Reunificación Familiar para Patrocinadores (DOC 38KB)
  • Acuerdo de Cuidado del Patrocinador (DOC 36KB)
  • Manual del Patrocinador (PDF 1.4MB)
  • Carta de Designación para el Cuidado de un Menor (DOC 52KB)