On May 23, 2023, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), “The Office of Refugee Resettlement Needs To Improve Its Oversight Related to the Placement and Transfer of Unaccompanied Children.” ORR manages the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program, which serves children with no lawful immigration status in the United States and places them in the least restrictive setting possible. The audit sought “to determine whether ORR followed its policies, procedures, and guidance both when making initial placements of unaccompanied children in care provider facilities and when transferring children between those facilities.” It explored whether ORR provided adequate oversight of transfers of unaccompanied children.

The audit found that ORR did not consistently make initial placements within 24 hours during influx periods because of capacity issues and lack of intake specialist staff. It also found that ORR did not adequately document placement decisions or placement designations for children with special concerns or needs and that ORR faced challenges transferring children with both behavioral and mental health needs. These errors occurred because ORR had limited quality control procedures, lacked oversight to ensure documentation was retained by care providers, and did not have a process in place to track denied transfers.

OIG made recommendations for improvements to ORR’s handling of these concerns, including addressing challenges with bed space capacity and intake specialist staffing during influx periods, requiring that all transfer documentation be maintained in the UC Portal and by developing procedures for tracking and reviewing that documentation, reviewing restrictive setting placement denials and taking action as needed to ensure an appropriate placement for each child, and assessing the need to expand its network capacity to serve the needs of children with mental health and behavioral issues.

In the report, HHS announced additional efforts to protect the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children, including a new Program Accountability team in ORR that will be responsible for assessing and addressing potential child exploitation risks associated with the unaccompanied children program.