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Staff fired, Arizona child immigrant facility suspended over abuse claims, HHS says

The allegations involve Southwest Key staff members and three detained immigrant children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A Southwest Key facility housing immigrant children in the West Valley has suspended operations after allegations of physical abuse "involving" staff members and detained children, government officials have confirmed.

Youngtown's Hacienda Del Sol suspended operations, Southwest Key confirmed Friday, but the reason for the suspension was unclear until a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) specified allegations involving staff and three children. The statement did not specify what happened during the incident or whether the staff is accused of abusing the children.

HHS officials said the staff members in question had been terminated and all of the children at Hacienda Del Sol had been relocated to other facilities by Sept. 28, 10 days after the facility stopped receiving children. The abuse allegedly occurred in mid-September, the statement said.

HHS did not identify the staff members in question or say how many were involved in the accusations. The statement did not say whether any of the staff will face criminal charges, but it did say that it is the Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) policy to report allegations to law enforcement and all relevant licensing bodies.

The ORR is within HHS, and it contracts Southwest Key Programs to operate the facilities.

This is not the first accusation of abuse by staff at a Southwest Key facility -- last month, a former employee was convicted on sex charges against migrant children following abuse throughout 2016 and 2017.

Below is the full statement from the Department of Health and Human Services:

On September 18, 2018 the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) suspended placement of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) at the Southwest Key Programs facility Hacienda del Sol in Youngtown, Arizona.

This action came as a result of physical abuse allegations involving staff members from this facility and three UAC. The incidents in question occurred in mid-September and were reported to ORR, Arizona Department of Child Safety, and the Arizona Department of Health Services as required by ORR policy. Southwest Key Programs terminated the employment of the staff members involved.

ORR relocated all UAC sheltered at this facility to other ORR network facilities by September 28, 2018. No additional information is available at this time as ORR/ACF continues its investigation and determines next steps.

ORR has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of abuse or inappropriate behavior at UAC care provider facilities and acts quickly to address any alleged violations of policy, including initiating employee disciplinary action, termination, or reporting to law enforcement agencies and all relevant licensing bodies.

All ORR UAC facilities are state licensed and monitored, at a minimum, on a monthly basis by ORR. If a care provider is found to be out of compliance with ORR policies and procedures based on monitoring activities, ORR will communicate the concerns in writing to the Program Director or appropriate person through a monitoring or site visit report, with corrective actions and child welfare best practice recommendations. The need for a corrective action occurs when the care provider is not in compliance with ORR policy and procedures. Additional information on Monitoring and Compliance [acf.hhs.gov] activities is available in the UAC Policy Guide.

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