What is YouthCare’s Casa de Los Amigos Program?
YouthCare’s Casa de los Amigos Program (Casa) is a 20-bed emergency shelter program funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is domiciled at the Federal Department of Health and Human Services. The program was founded almost a decade ago to serve unaccompanied minors ages 12-17. The young people coming to Casa are fleeing their home countries in order to survive. Their families have been shattered by war, gang violence, trafficking, or extreme poverty. They arrive in our country alone, traumatized, and looking for safety.
What are the goals of Casa de Los Amigos?
Every day, our goals in Casa de los Amigos are to: 1) focus on family reunification for every youth whenever possible, and 2) provide loving and dignified care.
What does YouthCare’s Casa de Los Amigos offer?
In their time at Casa, each young person receives customized supports including legal assistance, case management, physical and mental health care, and education. Our staff is multi-lingual and dedicated to providing familiar and culturally representative food, helping youth decorate their rooms and select clothing and school supplies, and securing any products or services that would help make a young person feel as valued and cherished as possible. Though some organizations contracted through ORR run detention facilities, Casa de Los Amigos is not a detention center.
Does YouthCare turn youth over to ICE on their 18th birthday?
No. It’s true that by law, after young people turn 18, we lose legal jurisdiction and the ability to continue to provide care for youth at Casa. It’s true that it is common practice around the U.S. that youth are “aged out” into detention on their 18th birthday. We do everything we can to reunite young people with their families as safely and quickly as possible before they turn 18. Case managers work diligently to complete a post-18 plan to ensure a client is released to a safe place (other YouthCare adult shelter, family member, or friends’ house in any state—whatever their preference is).
The Casa team places over 90% of our youth with families in the U.S. and supports their integration into the community by referring for post-release services for more than 70% of those. Given the hard work and track record, we are proud of the Casa program and are committed to supporting the undocumented youth who rely on us for care and support.
- In the last 4 1/2 years, we have never had a youth age out of our Casa program into ICE detention.
Of the 62 Casa clients who have exited the program since January 2020…
- 56 were released to their sponsor (a family member or family friend)
- 3 were transferred to long term foster care
- 1 was transferred to another ORR facility
- 1 won their immigration case while at Casa and went into Unaccompanied Refugee Minor care
- 1 transferred to a YouthCare housing program
We are also glad for a recent national settlement barring transfer to ICE on a client’s 18th birthday for clients who are at shelter-level programs like Casa. While this is a step in the right direction, we know this is not enough and must be expanded to every immigrant youth regardless of the type of facility where they reside, and regardless of if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or the community.
Are youth monitored?
Yes, we are required by law to provide 24/7 supervision for youth at Casa (as well as our other under-18 shelters). We abide by this requirement so that we can care for these young people, including helping to facilitate their sponsorship to the U.S. Youth can make private calls to family. There are no cameras inside the home, and youth have private sleeping spaces (1 or 2 youth per room). Every day, Casa staff provide care, learning, and opportunities for joy to youth in our care.
Are you a detention center?
Casa de los Amigos is considered a licensed group home—not a detention center. Our doors are not locked from the inside. We don’t have cameras. It’s true that some of this is semantics. The youth that come through our Casa program are considered ‘detainees’ by the government. But this is not our goal when they leave the program. Again, our goal in the program is to reunite them immediately and safely with their family or sponsors within the community.
Does YouthCare share clinical notes with ICE?
YouthCare and Casa de los Amigos do not share clinical notes with ICE. Ultimately, the clients are in the custody of ORR, and as such, ORR retains custody of the client case file. We believe the practice of ORR sharing clinical notes with ICE is abhorrent and should be immediately ended. We continue to advocate for this on the national level and just this month we joined U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and other agencies serving unaccompanied minors to call for immediate improvements to the care of unaccompanied minors, including the improvement of trauma-responsive care, part of which includes ending the practice of ORR sharing clinical notes. When we heard ORR has the ability to share notes with ICE, we immediately began informing youth that the information shared in therapy could potentially be shared with the government, including ICE. We always want them to have the power and control to make informed decisions.
Is Casa de Los Amigos serving youth who have been separated from their families at the border?
Since its founding, Casa has served minors who have crossed into the U.S. by themselves. Recently, however, a small number of young people have arrived at YouthCare who need our support because they have been separated from their families and are suffering under inhumane federal policies. This shift in policy motivates YouthCare to fight for change and reinforces our commitment to young people: every young person facing homelessness because of trauma and loss of family connection deserves an opportunity to be safe, to be supported, and to build a thriving future. Until there are no more youth who experience trauma—or who experience homelessness at all—we will provide unwavering care for those who need help today.
What is YouthCare’s position about the government’s “zero tolerance” policy?
The separation of young people from their families is cruel, inhumane, and unconscionable. YouthCare categorically condemns the atrocities at the border and demands that the government reunites the families they have actively separated.
What is YouthCare doing to advocate for change?
Along with other organizations, YouthCare endorsed a community campaign to shut down the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. We joined others to recently endorse the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)’s letter calling for immediate improvements to the care of unaccompanied children in the U.S. In fall 2020, we signed on to end the unlawful practice of hoteling children at the border that leaves them without appropriate care and supportive services that they need.
We’re working on efforts with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, the Washington State Office of the Governor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, and U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. We thank them for their leadership.
Blog posted updated: 03/19/2021