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Latest Top (4) News

HHS Deputy Secretary Issues Statement Regarding Audit of Travel Records

Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan issued the following statement regarding the release of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of travel practices at the department:

“HHS appreciates OIG’s work in reviewing the travel records in question. Reviews like this are an important part of any organization’s efforts to ensure that best practices are being utilized. The department understands the auditor’s concern that the processes and record keeping regarding travel could have been more comprehensive, and, since the period examined by the audit, HHS has instituted new travel review procedures applicable to all political appointees.

“It must be noted, though, that the work of an audit is to review compliance with procedures, not make legal conclusions. As a matter of law, none of the travel at issue was unauthorized.

“HHS and this administration are dedicated to serving the American people and being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. In furtherance of this goal, the department has instituted the most rigorous controls on travel in the organization’s history.”

Friday, July 13, 2018 - 09:45

HHS Issues Statement on Ms. L, et al., Status Report Regarding Plan for Compliance for Remaining Class Members

In today’s filing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, it is mentioned that HHS has identified 2,551 minors 5 to 17 years of age in the department’s custody who could potentially have been separated from a parent at the time of entry into the United States and therefore could potentially be eligible for reunification with a parent in DHS custody.

This number represents the total possible cohort of minors who could potentially be subject to the court order, and, based on past experience, includes a significant number of minors who cannot or should not be reunified with the adults in question.

The number is not the number of minors who will eventually qualify for reunification and be reunified. It is not, nor should it be, our objective to reunify all 2,551 minors with the adult whom they arrived here with, because some of those adults are not their parents or pose a clear danger to the children.

As we saw with the minors covered by the court case who are under age 5, and as the court has acknowledged, there are many circumstances that preclude a minor from being reunited with a parent, including when a purported parent ends up not being the parent, a parent poses a threat to the child’s well-being, or a parent is in custody elsewhere due to criminal activity.

The 2,551 number is lower than the number previously shared by HHS as the number of children eligible under the court case (“under 3,000”), because, in an effort to be as thorough as possible, we included in that number all minors who had any evidence that a separation may have occurred in their files. Since then, as our case workers have further refined the files and conducted interviews, we have been able to determine that a number of children who may have qualified under the court case are not in fact eligible. This includes, for example, cases where a child was reported to have traveled to the U.S. with a parent, but upon further examination it was learned that a separation occurred prior to crossing the border, or cases where the adult purporting to be a parent was found not to be a parent.

It is also worth noting that the 2,551 number is larger than the number of minors separated during the Zero Tolerance prosecution policy, as the court case covers minors who were separated for other reasons.

Friday, July 13, 2018 - 19:45

HHS Is Executing On Its Mission With Care And Compassion

HHS IS EXECUTING ON ITS MISSION: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) knows the identity and location of every minor in the care of grantees funded through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

  • HHS is meeting the needs of the minors in our custody – providing excellent care in a safe, supervised environment through its grantees.
  • The mission of ORR and the Unaccompanied Alien Children program is to place the minors in our custody as expeditiously as possible with a parent, close relative, legal guardian, or other sponsor that has been vetted to ensure that they can provide a suitable environment for the minor.
  • Where years of Congressional inaction has sown confusion, HHS has remained focused on providing compassionate care while complying with the law and court orders.

AN UNPRECEDENTED DEPLOYMENT OF PERSONNEL AND RESOURCES: HHS is expediting the reunification of minors with their parents under the timeline and conditions of a recent court ruling.

  • HHS has deployed more than 230 personnel – 130 from ORR, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to improve existing efforts to connect potential parents in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with minors in HHS custody; 100 additional case managers to supplement, as needed, case managers at grantee facilities.
  • U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps personnel and other resource staff are assisting parents in custody in communicating with their children and to complete reunification packages that are used to confirm parent relationships and to validate safety and suitability of reunification.
  • ASPR – the Department’s lead on logistical and operational support – has focused on three directives:
    1. Generate accurate information regarding separation status of each minor.
    2. Ensure parents and children are in communication with each other as often as feasible.
    3. Work to place minors currently in ORR-funded facilities back with parents as safely and as possible.

ADAPTING THE SYSTEM TO MEET NEW DEMANDS: The Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program was designed to ensure quality care of minors and place them as soon as possible with a vetted sponsor. It was not designed to track the circumstances under which UAC came into HHS custody.

  • HHS has always ensured the care of children in its custody. The Department performs criminal background checks on potential sponsors as well as other adults in their household to evaluate if there’s any history of violent crime or child abuse, ensure appropriate living arrangements can be made for the minor, and confirms the sponsor’s ability to care for the child.
  • However, as a consequence of the recent district court’s orders, new efforts have had to be made to specifically determine whether a child in HHS custody was separated from a purported parent at the border by the Department of Homeland Security and gather additional information about the purported parent. 
  • This requires reconciling different data sets and sources across the government even while the court ruling has ordered all minors and parents separated at the border to be reunited within distinct timelines for those under the age of 5 and for those from 5 to 17 years of age.

HOW TO COMPLY WITH THE COURT ORDER: HHS personnel have reviewed all the case files of every single minor in ORR care to determine if there is any indication that the minor was separated from a parent.

  • There are over 11,800 minors in HHS custody – over 80 percent are teenagers, mostly males, who crossed the border on their own.
  • A review and audit of multiple datasets has identified that of the more than 11,800 minors, there are under 3,000 who are currently in ORR care where HHS has evidence that they could possibly have been separated from a parent.
  • That is the upper boundary on the size of the population of children who may be affected by the court order requiring reunification with a parent by the court’s deadline.
  • This number is different than those previously released because:
    1. It includes – pursuant to the court’s order – any minors who were separated from a purported parent taken into custody for having crossed illegally as well as those separated for other reasons like concerns for the safety of the child.
    2. It is not limited to those who were separated at the border on or after May 6, 2018, but includes those who were separated at the border before May 6 and those who may have been separated at the border (for those children, HHS is investigating the circumstances of separation).
    3. It includes minors that could have been separated from a parent prior to crossing the U.S. border.
  • This data is being cross checked and reconciled with data from other government agencies, ORR grantees, and UAC case files to determine every child who potentially may or may not be affected by the court’s ruling
  • Additionally, because of the disparate data sets kept for different purposes by different agencies, ORR staff is also talking to every case manager of any child where there may be a question as to whether the child was separated from a parent or someone else. 
  • While continuing to work on the cases of all children affected, HHS has prioritized identifying those who need to be reunited first under the court order – those minors under the age of 5 who meet the criteria of separation set forth by the court. HHS has determined that approximately 100 children may meet that criteria.
  • Even though HHS knows the identity and location of every child in our custody, there are a myriad of scenarios that make it challenging to apply a specific number. For example:
  • Information from children can at times be unreliable. A child traveling with a parent may be separated prior to apprehension at the border and thus will not qualify as “separated” under the court’s order even though the child may tell a case manager that he or she was traveling with a parent.
  • The child may be listed as having been apprehended with who appeared to be a parent based on the information provided at the time, but later case managers, through their review process, learned that that person was not a parent but someone else. 
  • These situations and others are why HHS implemented a thorough auditing and review process to ensure the Department is able to comply with the court ruling.

PLACEMENT WITH A PARENT OR SPONSOR: HHS is working overtime to connect minors with verified parents.

  • HHS is continuing to work overtime to connect minors with verified parents within the current time constraints required by the court.
  • HHS is using DNA testing – a practice normally used by ORR when regular documentation is not available – to expedite verification of parentage and comply with the court’s artificial deadlines. A DNA test is done only when there is a specific parent-child relationship that needs to be validated. It will be used only for this purpose.
  • Vetting for child safety is essential. During the process being done for children under 5, two purported parents were identified in ICE criminal background checks as having criminal histories including charges of child cruelty, rape and kidnapping.

Through the Department of Justice, we have asked the court to either extend the deadlines to allow for the completion of any work that we believe is required to protect child welfare, or give us clear direction to release children before completing such work.

Friday, July 6, 2018 - 22:30

HHS Statement on Maximizing Child Welfare and Meeting Court Orders

Health and Human Services spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer issued the following statement on maximizing child welfare and meeting all court orders:

"HHS has been working tirelessly with all relevant partners, including the court, to achieve two objectives related to the separated minors in our care: maximizing child welfare and meeting all court orders.

“The court has emphasized clear goals for the process of reunification: ensuring the safety and welfare of the children in question, confirming the parentage of the adults in question, and reunifying the parents and children as quickly as possible. HHS shares those goals. We have appreciated the opportunity to work with the court toward them, and will continue to do so.

“The department has been operating in good faith and earnestly trying to comply with court orders, including the rapidly approaching deadline for reunification. Our interpretation of the court’s order is that HHS must make a determination of parentage, fitness, and safety before reunifying families, but that HHS need not undertake the fuller process of vetting for children’s safety that HHS would ordinarily conduct in its operations.

“In the interests of transparency and cooperation, the department felt it necessary in our filings on Friday to share with the court our view that meeting the deadline would mean truncating the process we might have otherwise followed.

“Within the time the court allows, we will strive to implement the most comprehensive procedures possible to ensure child welfare. We look forward to continuing our close work with the court to accomplish the goals we share of safe, expeditious reunification."

Monday, July 16, 2018 - 15:00