15 Years of Impact: How KIND is Expanding Aid for Children in Government Custody

March 7, 2023

When KIND was founded in 2008, the vast majority of the children we served were those who had been released from government custody and placed in the care of a sponsor. But since 2019, KIND’s work with children in detained facilities has expanded significantly, allowing us to deliver legal services to more immigrant children. 

Children arriving alone seeking safety in the United States, regardless of age, are held in government custody until an appropriate sponsor can be found to care for them while they undergo immigration proceedings. First, children are held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities for no more than 72 hours by law. They are then transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is charged with finding a sponsor for the child. 

Prior to 2019, only one of KIND’s offices worked with children in detention. Today, nine of KIND’s 16 field offices work with detained children at over 20 shelters across the country, serving almost 4,000 children at any given time.  

KIND provides Know Your Rights (KYR) presentations to detained children about their protections under U.S. law, which inform detained children about certain protections under U.S. law, often using creative approaches, such as puppets, to engage kids and help them understand complex information. The presentations cover topics such as: why kids are in ORR custody and the legal process; the role of a lawyer/how a lawyer can help them; their rights while in the shelter; and the different forms of protection/legal routes to achieving legal status in the United States. Often, the majority of presentations are in Spanish, but KIND staff offer interpreters when children prefer a language other than Spanish. In 2022, KIND staff gave KYRs to approximately 2,500 kids a month across the detained facilities that KIND serves.

Julie Burnett, a KIND paralegal, gives Know Your Rights presentations to children in detained facilities. When asked about the importance of KIND’s detained work, Burnett said, 

Ensuring that kids know what their options are once they leave the shelter—for example, the option to get a lawyer—is essential. These kids endure such difficult circumstances. As KIND staff, we are in the position of being able to say, “we’re really happy you’re here in this country. While your rights are not the same as those of a citizen, you do have certain rights.” It’s critical that children have this information because knowing they have these rights allows them to advocate for themselves later. 

Burnett also said that KIND staff are constantly looking for ways to be more equitable in the work, for example making sure that all the services they provide are available to indigenous language speakers. 

KIND also provides legal screenings to children in detention facilities to determine their potential eligibility for U.S. protection so that the children can be referred to legal service providers for representation in the area where they are released. KIND offers legal representation to many children who are released to a city where KIND operates. Facilitating legal representation for kids is key to providing permanent safety for them.  

Priya Konings, KIND’s Regional Director of Legal Services – South who assists with overseeing KIND’s detained work nationwide, explained some of the difficulties unaccompanied children face in these facilities:  

It’s very challenging for kids to be in detained facilities. There’s a lot of uncertainty about where they are going to go next. They are surrounded by strangers. It can be very overwhelming for the kids to be in that kind of limbo. They’ve already experienced violence in their home country, been in transit since leaving home country, arrived in the U.S., been placed in CBP custody, and then sent to an ORR detained facility. There’s a lot of movement and no stability. These kids tend to experience a great deal of anxiety, and they have a lot of questions, worries, and stress.

 KIND’s work with children in detained facilities tends to be fast paced. New children arrive at the detained facilities every day. KIND’s staff is alerted to the arrival of new kids and schedules time to meet with them, answers their questions, and tries to alleviate some of their stress and anxiety about the constant movement and transition.  In those few meetings, KIND’s role to give the children important legal information and gather facts about their case to make appropriate referrals is essential. KIND staff are trained to work in a child-centered way, even in this fast and intense setting. 

 Konings added: 

Our work in detained settings is crucial in that we educate unaccompanied children being held in detained facilities about their legal rights in the United States and we also gather information from them so that we can provide legal referrals so that they may seek legal representation. Additionally, KIND staff working in detained facilities provide these children with hope for their future and treat them with compassion and understanding to ease their stress.

To learn more about KIND’s work in detained facilities, please see “How are you?” Listening and Providing Hope to Detained, Separated Afghan children.