CWS Celebrates Newly Codified Protections for Minors in ORR Care

July 8, 2024

Washington, D.C.—Church World Service today applauds the codification of certain protections for unaccompanied minors in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In a groundbreaking move, the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) has now established the Unaccompanied Children Program Foundational Rule—which went into effect on July 1, 2024. CWS strongly supports the move by HHS to uphold improved regulatory standards regarding placement, care, and services for unaccompanied minors, who remain in ORR’s care until they are placed in community with a sponsor, largely a family member. However, CWS also warns that this final rule leaves critical gaps in oversight, transparency, and accountability for services rendered to unaccompanied minors, and calls on the federal government to take immediate action to address this shortcoming in protection for minors.

“Of all people seeking safety in the United States, unaccompanied children are at heightened risk for violations to their basic safety and rights. These long-awaited updates included in the rule are urgently needed so we can improve conditions for children seeking safety and protections,” said Christine Lemonda, Senior Director for Children’s Services at CWS. “We celebrate that we now have regulatory guidelines that codify the common-sense standards of care for children in government custody previously laid out in the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which established that children are entitled to conditions which protect their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. We applaud many aspects of the rule including the establishment of an Ombuds Office to accept, review, and adjudicate complaints, and detailed guidance regarding placement of children in care provider facilities; the strengthened protections for unaccompanied children with disabilities; the recognized need to expand legal services and Child Advocates; the improvements to language access for children; and government’s commitment to comprehensive healthcare and education. We also celebrate that the Rule requires the government to update and enhance definitional standards for trauma-informed and inclusive care of unaccompanied children.” 

While CWS has long advocated for codification of these minimum standards, we also—in the interest of minors—are forced to say that the government’s decision to terminate the aspects of the Flores Settlement Agreement that relate to the care of children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and to replace them with this rule leaves critical gaps in oversight, transparency, and accountability for services rendered to unaccompanied minors. The government should be strengthening the tools it has available, including the new Ombuds Office, ensuring they have sufficient authority and independence to provide oversight and accountability for safe conditions of unaccompanied children in government care. Until satisfactory solutions are in place for issues of oversight and accountability, aspects of the Flores agreement that relate to HHS should remain intact.”

CWS is cautiously optimistic that this Rule marks a new period of improved federal regulations to protect and serve unaccompanied children. Through implementation of the Home Study and Post Release Services program and targeted advocacy, we look forward to working with ORR to implement this rule and improve government accountability to ensure that all unaccompanied children can thrive in a safe and caring environment.

To learn more about the services provided to unaccompanied children, visit CWS’s Childrens’ Services page, or contact