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NEW YORK (December 14, 2022) – When unaccompanied migrant children leave the care of U.S. federal custody to reunite with a parent or other sponsor, they often lose access to critical case management, health and mental health care and other social services. While local governments, post-release service providers and others offer a range of services to support these children, the transition into U.S. communities can be rocky for these young migrants and their families because the service infrastructure and ease of access vary from location to location.

An issue brief released today by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sketches promising strategies for lowering barriers that can prevent unaccompanied children from accessing post-release supports and amplifying the effectiveness of services.

“Taking these steps will better position unaccompanied children to thrive, and the communities they join will benefit from their skills, creativity, contributions and diverse perspectives,” the MPI and UNICEF authors note.

“Too often, unaccompanied children’s needs are inadequately addressed, negatively affecting their well-being and longer-term development.” The findings and recommendations in the issue brief, Four Strategies to Improve Community Services for Unaccompanied Children in the United States, were informed by roundtable discussions that MPI and UNICEF convened with school professionals, federally funded post-release service providers, attorneys, community-based social service providers and other groups from across the United States. While the more than 536,000 unaccompanied children released to sponsors since fiscal year 2014 are concentrated in several states (Texas, California, Florida and New York each have received more than 45,000 children), they are in communities across the United States.

The four strategies that stand out as particularly important steps to take are:

  • Improving coordination and communication between local governments, service providers and community organizations. Interagency working groups and coalitions make it easier for groups serving unaccompanied children to share critical information, facilitate referrals and prepare for shifting on-the-ground needs.
  • Leveraging the unique role of public schools to connect children with comprehensive support. Given their daily contact with students, schools are well placed to become hubs for support that includes assistance navigating school and service systems, co-located medical and mental health services and connections to legal providers.
  • Using interdisciplinary approaches to address needs holistically. When social workers, attorneys, medical providers and other professionals work together, they can more easily synthesize information across disciplines and mount coordinated approaches to support children and their families.
  • Developing a diverse, skilled workforce in organizations serving unaccompanied children. While unaccompanied children benefit greatly from working with service providers who have appropriate linguistic and cultural expertise, as well as training in trauma-informed and resilience-oriented methodologies, qualified staff are often in short supply. Targeted recruitment that prioritizes the most critical competencies and job responsibilities, professional development offerings and staff care strategies are key tools for organizations seeking to find and retain staff who can effectively serve unaccompanied children.

“Collectively, these four strategies recognize that the best way to support unaccompanied children when they arrive in local communities is to build trust, strengthen ties and facilitate communication — not only between children and service providers, but also among and within service-providing organizations themselves,” the authors conclude.

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Read the brief here:

For related MPI and UNICEF works in this project, see: 

For data on releases of unaccompanied children to sponsors at national, state and top county levels between 2014 and 2022, check out this data tool.

For all MPI work on unaccompanied children, click here.

About MPI

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, visit

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit

For more information please contact:
Jenna Buraczenski, UNICEF USA, (917) 720-1432,