Ducey wants federal refugee program changes over child safety concerns
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in a letter Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlined child safety concerns stemming from the way a federal program is responding to a surge of unaccompanied children at the southern border.
“The crisis at the southwest border is spilling into other areas of government beyond the United States Department of Homeland Security,” Ducey said in the letter.
“The increasing number of unaccompanied minors is stressing the ability of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to respond appropriately, and jeopardizes both vulnerable Arizona children who have experienced abuse and neglect as well as migrant children.”
Ducey in the letter called on the Administration for Children and Families to immediately review and adjust the program’s practice of vetting host sponsors, reconsider and adjust the program’s procurement practices for shelter beds as well as cease efforts to redirect licensed beds currently serving Arizona foster children.
Arizona has already lost space for Arizona foster youth as a result of the program awarding contacts that directly compete for bed capacity with providers that are currently contracted to serve the state’s foster or tribal children and youth, according to Ducey.
“While we recognize the need of additional space to house unaccompanied minor children, the solution cannot be to try to obtain that space from providers that are essential for the state’s child welfare agency to care for Arizona’s abused and neglected children,” Ducey said in the letter. “Unfortunately, this is the route the ORR has taken as they have specifically targeted child welfare-licensed facilities that are needed to serve American children in the foster care system.
Ducey also alleges the program’s grant-making and contracting practices are creating an unfair competitive business environment that negatively impacts foster children.
The program is compensating programs in excess of $300 per day for congregate-care beds, which Ducey says is double the daily average state rate and far exceeds any state’s ability to fairly compete.
Ducey also had concerns regarding the program permitting virtual home studies of host sponsors, saying virtual home studies are not sufficient to ensure the home is truly safe as concerning things can be hidden on a camera that would be apparent in person.
“With the increased number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States, regretfully this humanitarian crisis provides a ripe environment for human and sex trafficking – an issue that Arizona has worked hard to combat over the past number of years,” Ducey said.
“Permitting the use of virtual vetting of host sponsors is not congruent with maintaining child safety nor does it deter human and sex traffickers from taking advantage of the humanitarian crisis.”
Ducey ended the letter recognizing the crisis at the border is presenting challenges for all levels of jurisdictions but said the federal program’s response is creating more challenges than it solves.
“This cannot be the way the federal government intends to solve this crisis,” Ducey said.