Standards for private organizations

2021 Edition

Unaccompanied Children Services Definition


Unaccompanied Children Services support youth safety and well-being, facilitate family involvement and provide necessary supports to children seeking physical and emotional safety and legal protection.


Unaccompanied Alien Children, referred to as Unaccompanied Children (UC), are legal minors under the age of 18 emigrating without legal status and without a parent/legal guardian. Unaccompanied Children are often apprehended by immigration officials when attempting to enter the United States without legal authorization. As a result, they are placed in the custody and care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) Division of Children Services/Unaccompanied Alien Children program. Unaccompanied Children without legal status receive placement and support services through providers that are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of this vulnerable population.

Unaccompanied Children Services provide necessary shelter, care, and supports to children without legal status in the United States. While in temporary care, children receive developmentally and age appropriate services that are sensitive to their unique cultural and linguistic needs. In addition to these services, care providers work to identify and reunify children with family members and other approved caretakers, known as sponsors. Sponsors are responsible for providing children with stability and caring for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being as they navigate legal proceedings. 

Post-Release Services are provided to children released to sponsors from the care of ORR based on identified needs. Services are tailored to the needs of children and their sponsors to ensure child safety and well-being, and family reunification, when possible. 

Home Studies are conducted, when necessary, to determine the interests, qualities, and capabilities of sponsors and ensure that they are able to meet the unique care needs of children upon their release.

Transitional Foster Care programs are short-term, licensed foster care programs housing children under the age of 18. These programs are an alternative to large shelters and services are provided until children can be reunified with their families, a sponsor is identified, or in some cases, the child is moved to traditional foster care.  


Viewing: UC - Unaccompanied Children Services


Note: Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) is a technical term defined by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The terms Unaccompanied Child and Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) have both been used by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) when referring to children who do not have lawful immigration status in the United States and are not in the care of a parent or legal guardian. As such, the terms Unaccompanied Child/Unaccompanied Children (without legal status) are used throughout this section when referring to this population. Other terms used to describe this population include, but are not limited to: unaccompanied minors, child migrants, and child immigrants. 

Note: Organizations that provide residential care to Unaccompanied Children (UC) (e.g., in a shelter, group living, or residential treatment facility) will complete all of the applicable standards in this section and take available NAs, as appropriate. 

Organizations that provide post-release services only will complete: UC 1, UC 2, UC 3, UC 14, and UC 15.

Organizations that provide home studies will also be responsible for completing UC 12

Organizations providing transitional foster care for unaccompanied minors will be dually assigned Foster Care and Kinship Services (FKC) and Unaccommpanied Children Services (UC) and will complete: UC 1, UC 2, UC 3: UC 3.01 (a-d), UC 3.02—3.04, UC 4, UC 5, UC 6, UC 7, UC 11, UC 12, UC 13, UC 14, UC 15

FKC 7, FKC 8: FKC 8.01, FKC 8.03—8.06, FKC 10, FKC 11, FKC 14, FKC 18, FKC 19, FKC 20, FKC 21, FKC 22, FKC 23.  

Note: These standards do not apply to organizations that serve unaccompanied children in a secure or therapeutic staff secure residential setting, as these types of programs are excluded from COA accreditation. 

Note: Please see UC Reference List for the research that informed the development of these standards.

Note: For information about changes made in the 2020 Edition, please see the UC Crosswalk.