WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine wrote to the Trump Administration demanding more information after an Associated Press report indicated widespread physical and psychological abuse of immigrant children at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC) near Staunton, Virginia. In a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary Steven Wagner for the Administration for Children and Families under the Department of Health and Human Services, Warner and Kaine outline the “appalling accusations against the facility’s personnel” and ask for clarification and additional information from the agency.
“As Americans continue to process the realities of your Administration’s immigration policies, we write with additional concerns about the treatment of immigrant children currently or previously detained in government facilities. Specifically, we seek information about allegations of widespread physical and psychological abuse at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC) near Staunton, Virginia, “Warner and Kaine wrote.
Their concerns are underscored by the recent influx of children now being placed in detention facilities across the country and the agency’s inability to properly care for children already in its custody.
“As you can imagine, our concerns stem from the fact that your agency is tasked with caring for unaccompanied immigrant youths after DHS apprehends them for unlawful entry,” the Senators continued. “Though we understand that these alleged abuses took place at a locally-operated facility, your agency ultimately has oversight and must ensure that these facilities comply with standards for when and how to physically engage these youths.”
The Senators requested a personal meeting to be briefed on the situation as well as answers to the following questions:
1.) What authority dictates the standard of care facilities must provide unaccompanied minors in terms of nutrition, education, and medical attention? What does that standard require?
2) According to reports and recent Congressional testimony, in April the SVJC near Staunton, Virginia housed 34 unaccompanied children – 30 males and four females. How many unaccompanied children referred from your agency are currently there now?
3) What is the ratio of guards to children at the Center? Do agency-specific standards mandate this ratio?
4) What standards govern youth’s access to bilingual staff or professional interpretation and translation services? Does the Center have an adequate number of employees who are capable of communicating with detainees who are limited in their English proficiency?
5) Is there a system for complaints against guards or other personnel at the Center?
6) Does the Center provide mental health services to unaccompanied children equivalent to those provided to juveniles in detention programs for the surrounding locales? Please provide information about the current mental health staffing model.
7) What best practices or policies does your agency follow in terms of moving unaccompanied children out of secure placement and into a residential setting?
8) Please provide the number of children that were referred to the Center for secure placement for reasons of suspected gang affiliation or activity between:
Read the full letter here.