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, while some are trafficked into the country. Some come to work, others to escape physical abuse and desperate poverty.
Southwest Key has unified nearly 100,000 children with family or sponsors since 2015.
Southwest Key operates 17 shelters in Texas, eight in Arizona and two in California.
The federal government funds unaccompanied minor shelters through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).
The majority of those 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.
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.
Our shelters look and feel like a dormitory setting. There are two to four twin size beds in each room and common areas to eat, play, read or relax. We provide programs to ensure children thrive while in our care. Education is vitally important, so we offer six hours of classroom education five days a week. We provide a wide variety of medical and counseling services as appropriate. We also understand how important recreation and physical activity is to these children, so they’re given ample time to play outside. Where possible, we provide opportunities for arts and crafts, music, entertainment and field trips. We follow USDA guidelines and our cooks provide nutritious meals and snacks every day.
The operations of our shelters are governed by the Flores Settlement Agreement. This is a legal ruling that establishes minimum standards for the treatment of children in the immigration system. We are required to care for these unaccompanied minors in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the child’s age and special needs. There are no cages, cells or guards. We comply with all applicable state child welfare laws and regulations, as well as all state and local building, fire, health and safety codes. Under the Flores Settlement Agreement, providers are required to offer six hours of daily education, access to legal representation and medical care, counseling and case management services until legal status is determined.
The staff in our shelters are trained as childcare providers and youth care workers, and they are determined to nurture, serve and encourage those in our care.
Southwest Key has a robust training regimen during which new employees undergo a minimum of 80 hours of classroom and on-the job training before they are allowed to supervise children. Southwest Key also provides ongoing professional development and training on licensing standards, where tenured staff is required to complete a minimum of 40 hours annually. We maintain other professional requirements and degrees as determined by state and federal standards and guidelines.
Southwest Key conducts thorough background checks of all prospective employees who apply to work in our shelters and complies with all required background checks and fingerprinting laws in each state in which our unaccompanied minor shelters operate.
All children receive medical examinations conducted 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.
Our medical staff provides first aid and basic medical care when needed. However, we are not staffed, trained or budgeted to provide emergency room-level care. So when minors require urgent care, they are transported to a facility that can best address their medical needs.
Children are taught reading, math, social studies, science, history and English in a classroom setting each day. Classroom education is provided six hours a day for five days each week.
In addition to reunification, medical and counseling services, children have access to legal services, religious services, phone calls, mail supplies and postage. They are also provided clothing, personal grooming and hygiene services, such as haircuts, laundry and housekeeping.
Within 24 hours of a child’s arrival at a Southwest Key facility, our case managers begin working on the process of reunification. First, case managers contact the child’s family in his or her home country and then reach out to the child’s contact(s) and prospective sponsors in the U.S. While potential sponsors are screened, Southwest Key provides children with care that allows them to thrive in a safe, nurturing environment. Youth have the opportunity to connect with sponsors or family members through phone and video calls to build relationships while in our care.
When an unaccompanied minor is approved for reunification, we have 72 hours before we are obligated to get them to their new home. After a rigorous screening process, approved sponsors make their own travel arrangements and may choose to pick up children from our shelters or arrange other methods of transportation. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) also offers a process for those families who cannot afford to travel to ask for financial assistance. Minors may need to be accompanied by trained staff members, based on airline requirements.
We make every effort to find the most suitable environment for these children. Sponsors are most often parents or close relatives already living in the U.S.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement fingerprints sponsors and conducts background checks using FBI and state criminal databases, as well as U.S. Department of Homeland Security arrest records.
Southwest Key has always been opposed to the separation of children from their parents. Children fleeing unsafe conditions in their homelands should not face the added trauma of being removed from the security of their parents’ care. Such an action inflicts unnecessary and inhumane psychological damage on the children our organization is committed to helping.
Southwest Key will always provide food, shelter, medical care, education and counseling for all of these children unconditionally as we work to reunite them with their families.
Southwest Key will continue to provide care for all immigrant minors because the alternative would be a less equipped and far less hospitable environment. Our primary concern is the safety and welfare of these children.
For Parents or Sponsors of an Unaccompanied Immigrant Child, please contact the ORR National Call Center for additional resources.