Unaccompained Children Services

The Office of Refugee Resettlement provides new populations with the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the United States. ORR programs provide people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. Programs focus on the safety, education, well-being, and self-sufficiency of minors in their care. Services are based on state child welfare requirements, and as part of its contract with ORR, VisionQuest provides two main services: children shelters and long-term foster care.

Temporary Residency for Unaccompanied Children

VisionQuest’s shelters operate under the mandate established by the 1987 Flores Settlement, and are funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Under Flores, immigrant minors must be released from Border Patrol Custody within 72 hours. At that point, ORR assumes custody. ORR is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Long-Term Foster Care

Long-term foster care is ORR-funded community-based foster-care placements and services to which eligible unaccompanied migrant children are transferred after a determination is made that the child will be in ORR custody for an extended period of time. Unaccompanied migrant children in ORR long-term foster care typically reside in safe, licensed foster homes, attend public school, and receive community-based services.

When Children Enter Our Care

Unaccompanied minors in our care receive services immediately on arrival:


  • In the first 24 hours, our case managers begin attempting to contact the child’s family,
    both in their home country and in the U.S., and reach out to potential U.S. sponsors. All
    potential sponsors are thoroughly screened, and children have opportunities to connect
    and build relationships before reunification.
  • In the first 48 hours, all children are examined by a licensed medical provider, screened
    for infectious diseases, and given any needed immunizations. Any child requiring
    additional medical care is referred to a specialist or hospital as warranted.
  • The children in our care are given a bedroom with private personal storage. No more
    than two children will share a bedroom and have easy access to multiple-user bathroom
  • We provide six hours of daily education (based on the state where the shelter is located) to the children five days a week. We provide hot, nourishing meals on site and consider food sensitivities and allergies. 
  • By law, VQ is required to place every child in our care with family or sponsor foster
    homes within 30-90 days, while also ensuring access to legal representation to finalize
    U.S. residential status.

What is the Office of Refugee Resettlement?

Since its founding, the United States has been a haven for immigrants. During the global turmoil of World War II, the U.S. first established federal funding for refugee programs, in the form of grants to volunteer refugee organizations.

In 1962, after a tremendous influx of refugees as a result of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. government took the leading role in sheltering and placing refugees. In 1980, the Office of Refugee Resettlement was formally established. In 1987, the Flores Settlement established the guidelines for immigrant children’s shelters. In 2003, the U.S. broadly increased the categories of migrants who qualified for refugee status, including all unaccompanied minors.

Currently, the annual federal budget for refugee relocation is nearly $2 billion. Of that, $1.3 billion is set aside to shelter, care for, and permanently place refugee children in the U.S., either with family or a willing sponsor (foster family).

Country of Origin

The top three countries of origin shifted from FY2017, with the highest percentage of children in FY2018 coming from Guatemala, followed by Honduras and El Salvador.

Country Of Origin 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Honduras 30% 26% 23% 21% 17% 34% 30% 34%
Guatemala 45% 54% 45% 40% 45% 32% 37% 34%
El Salvador 18% 12% 27% 34% 29% 29% 26% 27%
Mexico 2% 3% <3% 3% 6% <2% 3% 8%
All other countries 5% 5% 3% 2% 3% <3% 5% 4%


Age breakdown of unaccompanied migrant children by fiscal year (October 1 – September 30)

Age 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
0-12 30% 26% 23% 21% 17% 34% 30% 34%
13-14 45% 54% 45% 40% 45% 32% 37% 34%
15-16 18% 12% 27% 34% 29% 29% 26% 27%
17 2% 3% <3% 3% 6% <2% 3% 8%

VisionQuest and Refugee Children

VisionQuest (VQ) is a comprehensive national youth services organization that adheres to the highest professional standards in providing innovative intervention services to at-risk children and families. Established in 1973 by founder Bob Burton, VisionQuest provides extraordinary experiences and relationships that allow children, staff, and families to redefine and reach their highest potential. The Tucson-based company specializes in programs for at-risk children, including residential facilities. The organization currently operates in Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.

VisionQuest offers a unique continuum of care for dependent children that implements a three-program approach to provide individualized programming and support: VQ Community, VQ Semi-Independent, and VQ Sibling. VisionQuest provides children with safe and accredited foster care, and it conducts regular foster parent training. We also deliver school-based educational programming, case aid visitation services in our communities, and family court services.

VQ therapists, mentors and staff provide comprehensive services and support for several at-risk populations that include victims of sex-trafficking, children in need of foster care, children suffering from substance abuse, and unaccompanied migrant minors, among others.

VisionQuest Shelters for Unaccompanied Minor Children

VisionQuest has contracts with ORR to operate six shelters.

Each shelter will have a professional staff of 75-85, working in three shifts to provide continuous 24-hour care. In addition to the on-site staff, VQ also provides 24-hour access to additional healthcare professionals, therapists, counselors, and legal advisers who will be working with the children and VQ staff to resolve cases as quickly as possible. Our goal is to hire locally to reflect the communities that are welcoming these children.

Each shelter will house up to 60 children, providing:
• Safe, clean housing
• Classroom education
• Medical and dental care
• Socialization/recreation
• Vocational training
• Mental health services

while also arranging:
• Family reunification
• Access to legal services
• Case management/foster placement
• Phone and postal services

To remain welcoming and culturally sensitive, VisionQuest designed all shelters to include:
• No more than two children share a bedroom, and each child has private storage space.
• The decor is bright, festive and invokes a Latin American-style decor.
• There are dedicated outdoor spaces featuring interactive design elements (gardens, murals).

Monitoring and Safety Systems for Protecting Our Children

VQ understands concerns many have over the safety and security of these fragile and vulnerable children. As part of our core values and organizational culture, VQ has placed several safeguards and programs in place to ensure the maximum levels of safety and security for the children in our care.

As part of our comprehensive safety and security program, we have designated all our facilities as weapons-free zones except for local, state and federal law enforcement. We also conduct rigorous background checks on all staff and administration, who are subject to ORR and VQ safety and security protocols, procedures and regular training. These staff members routinely train to identify and watch for the characteristics of assault, abuse, and molestation, as well as all elements of abuse prevention. To further support child safety, VQ maintains 24-hour medical staff and emergency medicine partnerships with local hospitals.

Finally, VQ and ORR have established reporting procedures for children and their advocates and legal representatives with concerns that need addressing. Our senior administrators must initiate investigations within 24 hours of receiving reports and provide full transparency to the affected child’s advocates and legal representatives.