Crittenton’s Youth Shelter Program & Response to the Humanitarian Crisis

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) network of shelters for unaccompanied youth have garnered national attention as the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and the aftermath of the zero-tolerance policy continues to unfold.

Crittenton just happens to be one the HHS shelters located in Southern California that is a grantee under the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Our youth shelter programming is not new. In fact, it first opened its doors to assist ORR with providing medical, educational, recreational, mental health and housing services for “unaccompanied youth” nearly 12 years ago. The idea of the youth shelters came about as the federal government responded to the Flores Settlement Agreement. This litigation outcome set into motion the national standards of how the federal government needs to treat children in immigration custody, and that children must be held in the “least restrictive environment appropriate to age and special needs”. The “least restrictive environment” component of the Flores Settlement Agreement is the reason why Crittenton a trauma-informed child welfare agency was selected to be a youth shelter by HHS. We’ve served unaccompanied youth during the Bush administration, followed by the Obama administration, and now into the current administration.

Crittenton nor any other youth shelter have any formal say in national policy concerning the immigration outcomes of the unaccompanied youth in our care. However, we will continue to encourage our federal partners to listen to the perspective of child welfare expertise and to always keep the well-being of children as a priority within their decision-making process.

We are a nonprofit and an agency of mental health professionals that deeply cares for the children and youth we serve. Crittenton is proud of all the programming we are known for that includes serving the needs of American foster care youth, transitional age youth, juvenile justice youth, teen mothers and commercially sexually exploited youth (or trafficked youth).

In times of crisis, such as these, we remain true to our child welfare and mental health legacy. We can’t control the circumstances in which all of our youth find themselves in, but we will do everything in our power to help all of our kids, in all of our programs, in their time of need.

We apologize for any late responses during this period as we are handling a high volume of calls and emails and are going through each as time permits. We continue to thank all of our neighbors, volunteers, and new supporters for their concern and interest in our youth shelter program and its overall mission. Thank you for the kindness shown, and for further information about our mission and our programs you can email us at info@crittentonsocal.org .

Media Requests

Media can send an email to Crittenton’s Communications Department at our pressroom at info@crittentonsocal.org and for further information about data regarding unaccompanied children within HHS shelters or national policy regarding unaccompanied youth and family reunification we will need to redirect those question to the Administration of Children and Families Office of Public Affairs at 202-401-9215 or media@acf.hhs.gov

You can find national program data provided by HHS at this link

Additional information about the HHS Unaccompanied Youth Program can also be found at this link

Youth Shelter Programming Demystified

To clarify the inaccurate and misleading reporting around basic facts regarding Crittenton’s Youth Shelter we’ve decided to address these issues. We continue to ask stakeholders and the media that you report information in an accurate, responsible and professional manner. *Please be mindful there is the safety of children and staff to always consider as you provide information of our youth shelter program.

Youth Shelter Program and Separated Children Facts

The reporting that “scores of separated migrant children” and “tender age youth under the age of 8 including babies and toddlers” are being sent to California shelters including Crittenton is inaccurate. The fact, for our agency, is that even before the zero-tolerance policy took place our shelter for unaccompanied youth (meaning youth arriving to the U.S. on their own/without parents, and that need a safe place to stay as they wait for the next steps of their immigration process) was already nearing capacity.

As this policy took into effect we were watching in real time what was about to occur at all shelters across the country. During that time period we accepted a handful of youth, oftentimes not knowing they were among the “separated youth” until our youth shelter intake office finalized initial child welfare assessments that each youth receives as they enter our system of care. This was heartbreaking information for our agency to have to process, but we also realized that if we did not help these separated youth they would have stayed at the border facilities. We’d also like to make abundantly clear that “separated” infants and toddlers are not and have never been a part of our system of care.

The main purpose of this agency program has always been to provide the youth in our care quality housing services, mental health services, medical services if needed, educational services, recreational activities and outings, religious services access if requested, a lot of interaction with our volunteer groups, and of course a lot of play and leisure time to help our youth feel safe and to help ease any distress they may feel. Crittenton staff is working around the clock and are trained to provide trauma-informed services, and remain committed in supporting all of our youth in their time of need.

Youth Shelter Amenities

To suggest that our agency is holding our youth in “cages” or in “unlicensed and subpar facilities” and that Crittenton approves that standard of care is unequivocally false. The standards of a youth shelter space in the state of California are highly regulated and that type of makeshift housing option for children and youth is not acceptable in California. What we have available is a dormitory-style residential space that you would see on any college campus (but customized for the needs of our youth), that has family-style dining areas, play areas, showers, bathrooms, laundry service areas, a medical unit and an outdoor sports field.  We ask that when stakeholders or the media discuss Crittenton regarding our shelter space that you do not mislead your audience or social network with images of cages and warehouses. That is not what Crittenton is about.

In fact, just recently (as of June 2018) an unannounced inspection was conducted by the Community Care Licensing division of the California Department of Social Services (the regulatory division that oversees the safety and facility standards of group homes and youth shelters in California). Their thorough inspection and report noted no issues or concerns as to the health and well-being of the youth in our care. A copy of Crittenton’s facility evaluation report issued by Community Care Licensing is available here.

Family Reunification

We’ve been working with unaccompanied youth (again those that come to the US on their own without their parents) for more than a decade and family reunification (reunifying youth with close relatives or extended family across the country or in their home countries) has also been a big part of our mission. Along the way we’ve made partnerships with numerous immigration attorneys and advocacy groups that have supported our mission. Not all youth will qualify for immigration relief or asylum, but for those that do they are given every resource available. We will continue to do our part in this humanitarian crisis to work directly with the Office of Refugee Resettlement on every aspect of, and the next steps concerning the family reunification process.

During this time period, we continue to work to reunify all youth in our care. Our priority continues to be child safety while working as quickly as possible to comply with final reunification decisions made by the federal government, and to help coordinate the reunification process with approved and vetted family sponsors per the national guidelines established by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

We strongly believe that families belong together and have always believed this to be true, in every family reunification matter we’ve come across throughout our program’s history. The “Zero-Tolerance” policy and the aftermath of this decision were abhorrent and violate the tenants and standards of child welfare we follow. Sadly, there is not much any one of us could have done to have stopped the executive order, but there is much that needs to be done for all unaccompanied youth (whether separated or not).

We remain steadfast in our overall mission of providing quality care to all the youth served in every one of our programs. Our care for youth placed with us, whether from local child welfare, child protection services, juvenile justice, or from the federal government remains the same – compassionate and unwavering.

Media Questions Regarding Family Reunification:

For further information about overall national policy or strategy around the family reunification process, you will need to reach out to the Administration of Children and Families Office of Public Affairs at 202-401-9215 or media@acf.hhs.gov

Additional information regarding ORR family reunification guidelines that all HHS shelters must follow can be found on this link

The Victor Salazar Case of 2008 as reported by Los Angeles Times

The actions of one former employee do not equal an entire history of child sexual abuse within an organization. If that were the case schools and churches would be unsafe places for children as well. Yes, it was a sad moment in time for our agency. To suggest we condone child sex abuse is inaccurate. It was one incident that occurred at our youth shelter, a DECADE ago, that hasn’t happened since. As a child welfare agency we treat any employee issues, facility issues, or youth care related issues that may occur very seriously, and are addressed immediately, with all proper authorities, and immediate corrective actions plans are set-forth and implemented. We follow all regulations, youth shelter licensing standards and child welfare best practices that the State of California demands of our agency. We’ve included a photocopy of our original agency’s response a decade ago regarding this incident, a copy of a one page statement by the Women’s Refugee Commission (and their investigation during that time period); and a final report issued by the Women’s Refugee Commission stating that our agency took immediate, ethical and appropriate action in this case. All Women’s Refugee Commission documentation referring to this case can be found on their website and publicly available. Information that the Los Angeles Times could have searched for and introduced to their readers, but failed to do so.

Youth Shelter Funding Source

Our youth shelter program is directly funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services. All funding granted to our organization is used for direct youth care needs (housing, food, clothing, medical, educational services, mental health services to name a few), and youth shelter program staff salaries. Any surplus of funding that is left over at the end of the fiscal year must be returned to the federal government. We do not profit from the youth shelter program. It is not in our mission as 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization to do so.

Crittenton Staff Experience and Well-Being

We stand by our original media statement in providing quality services and adhering to child welfare best practices throughout this crisis. We continue to encourage media to carefully report and to keep the roles of shelters and foster care agencies across the country doing this work into context. We are all trying to do what is best for each of our youth in a very stressful humanitarian crisis. Crittenton’s team of nurses, therapists, case managers, educators, clinicians, and social workers are used to working in high-stress situations. As a child welfare agency, it is common to work with children experiencing crisis (whether it be in our domestic child welfare programming or in our international youth programming). And we have decades of experience working with youth with histories of trauma and addressing that trauma is nothing new to us. The only difference is making sure that we customize our delivery of services in a way that is culturally sensitive to the international children we serve.

Our shelter and family reunification teams are an amazing group of human services professionals. During this crisis time, we will continue to encourage self-care best practices; continue to promote the Employee Assistance Program that is available to all employees should they need a professional counselor to speak to in these emotionally difficult times; and support our team with whatever resources or emotional morale is needed to reassure our employees that we are grateful to them and the unbelievable work they are accomplishing on behalf of the youth in our care.

How Can I Help?

As previously mentioned the youth shelter program and its primary operational and staffing needs are directly funding by the US Department of Health and Human Services. It is the reason why our organization does not fundraise directly to our support base regarding the basic operational needs of this programming effort. However, for those interested in providing in-kind donations or acts of kindness we welcome your support. We thank all of our seasoned supporters and those that our new to our mission in regards to the kindness shown in the past couple of weeks. Crittenton is grateful to all of you that have taken the time to connect with us and have asked how you can help. These are just a number of ways you can partner with us, but we are also happy to hear any other partnership suggestions you may have.

In-Kind Donations:

A big part of our youth shelter programming is making sure that every child feels welcomed from day one by prioritizing recreational and leisure activities for the youth in our care. Therefore, in-kind donations are always appreciated from the community should you like to help us in these efforts. Whether its providing a welcome basket for our youth as they arrive to our shelter, or providing supplies for arts and crafts, or donating sports equipment, backpacks or age appropriate movies, or supplies for birthdays or holiday themed festivities…. the possibilities are endless.

If you would like further information about what in-kind donations are needed email us at give@crittentonsocal.org

Volunteer:

Many of our seasoned volunteers have mentioned that volunteering in this particular program has been a rewarding experience, and has become a popular volunteer opportunity for many local community members. Because it is a well liked volunteer opportunity please note that there are limited openings available for long-term volunteer positions throughout the year. As with any other volunteer opportunity at Crittenton all potential volunteers must go through the formal volunteer application process, go through training, and pass a background check.

If you would like further information about Crittenton’s Volunteer Program and the current volunteer positions available email us at give@crittentonsocal.org

Legal Advocacy:

We’ve received a number of calls and emails from attorneys that would like to provide pro bono services for the unaccompanied youth in our program in need of legal counsel. We are grateful to all of you that have connected with us. Please know that we will make every effort to get back to all of you in order to discuss current needs. We typically work with Immigrant Defenders Law Center and with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). These two organizations have been critically important to have as partners throughout the years that our mission has served unaccompanied youth. For those interested in helping these organizations directly either by volunteering your expertise or donating we encourage you to do so.

Immigrant Defenders Law Center: you can donate to their Children’s Representation Project directly or volunteer in their Pro Bono Attorney Project   by emailing Laura Olmos at laura@immmdef.org or call their office at 213-634-0999.

KIND (Kids in Need of Defense): you can donate to KIND directly, or volunteer in their legal services division by emailing Nirupa Narayan at nnarayan@supportkind.org or emailing their Los Angeles Field Office at Infolosangeles@supportkind.org

Fostering:

Recently, there has been some confusion surrounding Crittenton’s Foster Care Program. Please note that we do not provide “short-term” foster care services for the unaccompanied children who have been recently separated. This is not a part of our mission. We do, however, have a foster care program but for youth not involved with this current humanitarian crisis. Any and all potential foster care parents are welcomed to connect with us to discuss our foster care program, and what the long-term expectations and training requirements will be to become a foster care parent with our organization.

If you have interest in becoming a foster parent or foster family and need further information about our program email us at fostercare@crittentonsocal.org

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