Staff watching migrant teens unscreened
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.
The staff isn’t being screened for child abuse and neglect at a Miami-based emergency detention center because Florida law bans any outside employer from reviewing information in its child welfare system. Until recently at another facility holding migrant teens in Tornillo, Texas, 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.
Tornillo has 2,100 staff for about 2,300 teens; Homestead 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, bipartisan lawmakers called for swift reforms after the AP reported 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 its immediate shutdown.
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.