Migrant shelter shut down by feds for child abuse incidents reopens in Youngtown




    Following the shut down of two of its Arizona facilities in October 2018, Southwest Key has reopened its shelters in Phoenix and Youngtown. The company has 13 sites in Arizona, which the Arizona Department of Health Services licenses as residential behavioral health centers for children, with a combined capacity to hold almost 1,600 migrant minors. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

    A migrant youth shelter in the West Valley that was shut down last year by the federal government following reports of child abuse has reopened, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

    ADHS issued a license on Sept. 30 for the Southwest Key shelter to reopen, according to agency spokesman Chris Minnick. Southwest Key spokesman Neil Nowlin said migrant minors were placed in facility immediately following state approval. 

    There is a continuing need for beds in state licensed facilities, so we remain committed to providing compassionate care, education, recreation, vocational training and access to pro bono legal counsel while our staff works to safely reunite minors with a sponsor,” Nowlin said in a statement.

    The recently opened Southwest Key shelter is located in Youngtown and can house 139 migrant minors. Its residents are children who recently arrived at the border alone to seek protections or were separated from a parent or family member by federal officials after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

    According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, migrant minors who were arrested by border officials without a parent increased by 52% in fiscal year 2019, when compared to the previous year. Along Arizona’s border, 13,150 migrant children and teens arrived at ports of entry alone and were arrested by Border Patrol last fiscal year.

    Other organizations have plans to expand their shelter capacities for migrant minors in Arizona, and have partnered with the federal government to service unaccompanied and separated migrant youth, including infants and toddlers

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement  suspended operations at the Youngtown site on Sept. 18, 2018, after reports of staff physically abusing a 7-year-old girl and two boys. Videos and records of those incidents document staff slapped, pushed, kicked and dragged the minors. Law enforcement and county prosecutors investigated the incidents and ultimately concluded no crimes were committed. 

    Shelters like Southwest Key are contracted by ORR to care for migrant children while they await family reunification or release to a sponsor. According to HHS, the average stay at those shetlers is 50 days. There are approximately 5,000 migrant children and teens in about 170 facilities across 23 states as of Aug. 5, HHS estimated.

    ADHS licenses 13 sites operated by Southwest Key as residential behavioral health centers for children, with a combined capacity to hold almost 1,600 migrant children and teens. The state also approved on Sept. 1 a separate license for Southwest Key to reopen a Phoenix facility with a capacity for 420 migrant minors. 

    Southwest Key faced a complete shutdown of all its operations in Arizona last fall following state inspectors findings of widespread deficiencies in the organizations records-keeping of background checks, among other shortcomings. 

    The company and the state subsequently entered a settlement, which required Southwest Key to stop accepting new migrant children and make improvements its quality management rules by hiring monitors at each of its sites and a consultant. The company also agreed to give up its state licenses for the Youngtown and a Phoenix facility. 

    Community advocates have criticized the state oversight work on Southwest Key as lacking transparency. 

    Southwest Key applied for a new license to reopen the Youngtown shelter on July 16.

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.