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Disability Rights Florida Shines Spotlight on Homestead Shelter

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, SEPTEMBER 10, 2019—Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s Protection and Advocacy system, has released its Follow-Up Monitoring Report of the Homestead Emergency Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children today. The report is the culmination of two in-person visits to the facility and contains a number of serious findings.

In August, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced the closure of Homestead and transferred all children to other facilities. ORR is continuing to maintain operations at Homestead and it is likely the facility will fully reopen as soon as October. Considering this, our report provides recommendations for improvements to increase the safety and wellbeing of children with disabilities who will reside at the shelter in the future.

Findings discussed in the report include:

  • Although Homestead is deemed a “temporary” shelter, the average length of stay is about two months, with some children held there for more than three months.
  • There is uncertainty regarding how reports of abuse and sexual assault are reported and investigated at Homestead.
  • There is no firm plan on how to efficiently evacuate well over a thousand children from Homestead in the case of a hurricane or other emergency.
  • Some children may be continuing to be prescribed psychotropic medications unnecessarily.
  • Children are being treated with psychotropic medications based on questionable “informed consent” due to the coercive nature of seeking “consent” from parents or guardians who may be thousands of miles away from their children in government detention, undermining the concept of informed consent.
  • Mental health counselors at Homestead are not required to be licensed in Florida nor do they provide any privacy during individual counseling sessions, undermining their effectiveness.
  • Individualized educational services are not being provided to the children. In addition, children at Homestead do not have access to special education screening or any specialized services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“It is widely acknowledged that many of the immigrant children detained by the federal government at Homestead Shelter have experienced significant trauma and need appropriate mental health care,” said Peter Sleasman, Director of Investigations at Disability Rights Florida and the primary author of the report. “Homestead, with a population of over 2000 children at the time of our visit, was not staffed or designed to meet the needs of these children. Subjecting children with disabilities to the overcrowded and impersonal conditions at Homestead for extended periods of time only exacerbates their symptoms and is a form of abuse and neglect in and of itself. Homestead is currently closed, and we strongly urge the government to not reopen it.”

Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated Protection and Advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. We provide free legal and advocacy services to people with disabilities through the authority and responsibility of nine federal grants. Our mission is to advance the quality of life, dignity, equality, self-determination, and freedom of choice for people with disabilities.

Original Report - Monitoring Report: Homestead Emergency Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children

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