Centers’ staffers lack full checks
Workers caring for teens not screened for neglect, child abuse
Nearly every adult working with children in the U.S. — from nannies to teachers to coaches — has undergone state screenings to ensure they have no proven history of abusing or neglecting kids. One exception: thousands of workers at two federal detention facilities holding 3,600 migrant teens in the government’s care.
The staff isn’t being screened for child abuse and neglect at a Miamibased emergency detention center because Florida law bans any outside employer from reviewing information in its child welfare system. Until recently at a border facility in Tornillo, Texas, near El Paso, that’s holding migrant teens, staff hadn’t even undergone FBI fingerprint checks, let alone child welfare screenings, a government report found.
The missing screening at both sites involves searching child protective services systems to see whether potential employees had a verified allegation of abuse, neglect or abandonment, which could range from having a foster child run away from a group home to failing to take a sick child to the hospital. These allegations often are not criminally prosecuted and therefore wouldn’t show up in other screenings.
Tornillo has 2,100 staff for about 2,300 teens; Homestead, Fla., has 2,000 staff for about 1,300 teens.
The two facilities can operate unlicensed and without required checks because they are located on federal property and thus don’t have to comply with state child welfare laws. Tornillo is on Customs and Border Protection land along the U.S.Mexico border, and Homestead is on a former Labor Department Jobs Corps site.
Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Texas and beyond called for swift reforms and public hearings after a report that the government put thousands of teens at risk at Tornillo by waiving the security screenings and having fewer mental health workers than needed. And on Tuesday, two members of Congress called for the immediate shutdown of Tornillo.
The government report said the screenings were waived at Tornillo because the agency was under pressure to open the camp quickly and the federal government erroneously assumed staff members already had FBI fingerprint checks.
Tornillo launched a monthlong program to run staff through FBI fingerprint checks last week in response to a wave of public pressure prompted by the government memo and media reports about the lack of staff screening there.
During his time serving as the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd granted screening waivers for both Homestead and Tornillo, which was allowed under federal rules since the shelters were opened on a temporary basis.
Homestead has been open for eight months and Tornillo for five, however, with no indication when they will close.