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Jan 8, 2019

More counselors needed for children in U.S. border detention facilities, ACA CEO Says

American Counseling Association Chief Executive Officer Richard Yep recently sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, urging HHS to increase the number of mental health counselors at influx care facilities in the United States housing unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S. border.

Yep’s December letter came in response to a Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report that found an insufficient number of mental health clinicians at the Tornillo influx care facility for refugee children at the Texas border. The OIG noted in that report that, in October, the facility had a ratio of one clinician for every 55 children at the facility (1:55), rather than the one clinician to 12 children (1:12) generally required by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The OIG report states: “…we are concerned that both the current staffing ratio and the ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] allowable budgeted staffing ratio are dangerously low. It is unclear how clinician staff at Tornillo could properly assess and respond to the UAC’s [unaccompanied alien children’s] mental health needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, given the current and budgeted staffing ratios, particularly for a population believed to have experienced significant trauma.”

In his letter to the HHS Secretary, Yep pointed out that there are many qualified licensed professional counselors in Texas and elsewhere who could be working with the children at Tornillo and other similar facilities.

“Providing refugee children with adequate mental health counseling is the right thing to do,” Yep’s letter concludes. “And, because these children are here asking to live in the United States, it makes sense to help them survive the trauma of being separated from their parents and being held at an ORR influx facility.”

You can read the letter here.

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