A government-funded child care center in Fullerton, California, didn’t conduct background checks appropriately before releasing unaccompanied migrant children to sponsors during a surge in illegal immigration, according to a government watchdog.
The timely report criticized the Florence Crittenton Services center in Orange County for not documenting background checks on potential sponsors for an estimated four percent of the cases, or about 71 children, released in 2014 and 2015, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) general found.
“As a result, children may have been at risk of being released to sponsors with significant criminal backgrounds, placing children in danger,” according to the audit report released Friday.
The new attention to the plight of children separated from their parents after being brought into the country illegally was sparked by President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy that seeks to apprehend, detain and charge all adults who violate immigration laws, but problems in child detention practices are far from new.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is legally bound to care for unaccompanied children and provide sponsor homes for them to live in. Usually sponsors are available relatives in the U.S. or a parent, but sometimes children are placed with nonprofit organizations who accept legal guardianship.
The number of children entering the program began to increase in 2012 and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) took in 13,000 children — compared to 7,000 and 8,000 children each year between 2005 and 2011. ORR facilities took in 24,668 children in 2013, and in 2014, often called the “surge” year, the government cared for 57,496 children.
The number of unaccompanied alien children needing HHS’ care dropped in 2015, but the funding increased to $3 billion that year for the care of unaccompanied alien children.
At the time of the surge, many Republicans blamed the influx of unaccompanied children on former President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed children brought into the country illegally to stay when they came of age, and may have given parents the hope of amnesty for themselves and their children. Poverty and political unrest in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala made living conditions so abysmal that many saw risking illegal border crossing into America as the only option.
The Fullerton facility had served more than 4,000 children between 2006 and 2015, but in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, it released 1,096 to sponsors. As a grantee of the ORR, Crittenton received $20.5 million in federal funds to care for the unaccompanied children.
Crittenton didn’t conduct all the required background checks for an estimated two percent of those cases, but it could be as high as six percent, as the IG audited only a sample of the cases.
Depending on the relationship between the sponsor and the child, the child care facilities must conduct certain types of background checks. Crittenton released two out of the 100 children in the cases the IG audited to homes without conducting the required child abuse and neglect survey. Children can be released if the home check is pending; however, Crittenton did not initiate the visits at the time of release.
For four of the children in the cases the IG audited, inspectors could not find any evidence that Crittenton conducted the required public records checks to vet sponsors before releasing the children. That could be a paperwork error, but there’s no way for the ORR to know whether the background check was conducted.
The IG found other documentation errors for an additional nine percent of the released children, all of which the care facility blamed on the immigration surge.
In its response to the IG, Crittenton CEO Joyce Capelle wrote that the “dramatic influx overwhelmed ORR systems and that of its contract providers.”
“Procedures changed continuously, in an effort to effective manage such a dramatic increase in case load without a concomitant infusion of resources,” Capelle said in the March 19 letter to the IG, thanking the inspectors for their work. “A similar audit in calmer times would likely yield a better result. However, the audit period was one of crisis management and I am proud of the work we did under these trying circumstances. All that said, there are weaknesses in our systems that you have identified.”
Crittenton did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment Friday.
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