Sheltering, Caring and Reunifying

For over 20 years, Southwest Key has been an integral partner in the U.S. response to the immigration crisis at our southern border, sheltering immigrant children under 18 years of age who arrive in this country without a parent or guardian, and working to reunify them with a parent, relative or sponsor.

The majority of youth in our care are 13-17 year olds from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who’ve come here on their own, escaping dangerous conditions in their homeland. During the short period of time they are with us, we work to share the building blocks for their future success.

After unification, we work to ensure safety and wellbeing in their new homes while connecting them to community services. Through our Home Study and Post Release Programs, support staff across 18 states serve youth nationwide who have been referred by ORR.

General Statistics


Age breakdown of unaccompanied children by fiscal year (October 1 — September 30).


Age statistics for 2020


Age statistics for 2019


Age statistics for 2018

*Data from Office of Refugee Resettlement for all unaccompanied minors across providers.

Unaccompanied Minor Shelters

Southwest Key’s unaccompanied minor shelters are part of a federal shelter system that was created as a result of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA).

The agreement mandates the prompt release of immigrant minors from Border Patrol custody within 72 hours. Then, they are transferred into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Our programs are funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are so many children coming to the U.S.?

Based on our experience, their basic human needs are not being met at home: food, water, shelter, safety and warmth. Some come to escape extreme violence and gang threats in their home countries, some are trafficked into the country. Some come to work, others to escape physical abuse and desperate poverty.

How many children do you care for?

Southwest Key has unified nearly 100,000 children with family or sponsors since 2015. 

On average, how long does a child stay at SWK?

Our goal is to reunify unaccompanied minors with loved ones or sponsors as swiftly as possible while abiding by strict federal requirements required to ensure their safety. The typical length of stay for minors in our shelters is 32 days or less.

Where does Southwest Key have shelters?

Southwest Key operates 17 shelters in Texas, eight in Arizona and two in California.

Intake & Reunification Process

Children begin receiving care immediately upon entering our facilities. Within 24 hours of arrival, our case managers begin working on reunification. This process begins with attempting to contact the child’s family in his or her home country and then reaching out to contacts and prospective sponsors in the U.S.  All potential sponsors are thoroughly screened, and children have opportunities to connect and build relationships before reunification.

Within 48 hours of arrival, all minors receive a medical exam by a licensed medical provider. They are screened for infectious diseases and receive immunizations as needed. Those who require examinations from specialists or hospital care are transported to the appropriate medical facilities.

Shelter Care

In addition to reunification, medical and counseling services, children also have access to legal services, religious services, phone calls, mail supplies and postage. They are provided personal grooming and hygiene services, such as haircuts, laundry and housekeeping.

Our programs are developed to provide children the necessary resources to thrive in a safe, nurturing environment while in our care. We follow USDA guidelines and our in-house cooks provide nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day.

Education is vitally important, so we provide six hours of classroom education five days a week. In addition to mental stimulation, we understand how valuable recreation and physical activity is to all children, so they’re given ample time to play outside. When possible, we provide opportunities for arts and crafts, music, entertainment and field trips.

All children receive full medical examinations within 48 hours of entering our facilities. They are also screened for any infectious diseases and receive all CDC recommended immunizations.

Southwest Key medical staff provide basic medical care 24 hours a day. Children who require examinations from specialists or hospital care are transported by Southwest Key to appropriate medical facilities.