Seven days from arrival, details surrounding 'unaccompanied children' to Somervell County surface

Travis M. Smith Managing Editor | @travis5mith tsmith@theglenrosereporter.com
Pictured are five of the the unaccompanied children being accompanied by a BCFS staffer at Camp Lakeview in Ellis County.

GLEN ROSE – After Friday evening’s fiasco where Johnson County was mistakenly notified and Saturday’s scramble by Somervell officials to piece together information, details surrounding the imminent arrival of approximately 200-300 unaccompanied children to Camp Arrowhead in Glen Rose have finally surfaced. 

The “event,” as Camp Arrowhead’s manger Joe Thomas referred to it, will begin on Dec. 29 and will last for a maximum of 21 days. According to Somervell County Judge Danny L. Chambers, the “clock starts ticking” as soon as the first child steps foot on the grounds. The time period can be less than 21 days, but Chambers cited the maximum period allowed by Texas state laws.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has contracted BCFS, founded in 1944 as a non-profit organization out of San Antonio, to care for the children while a sponsor is located, confirmed Andrea Helling, acting director of the Office of Communications within HHS.

“The [children] who come to our temporary facilities are between 12-17 years of age and have been through an entire medical evaluation that includes a pregnancy test for all of the girls, flu shot, TB testing, and a complete physical evaluation,” Helling said.

In fact, she went as far as to add that if a child shows any sign of ailment, ranging from the flu to a sprained ankle and everything outside and in between, the child will be held at a standard facility until medically cleared.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement has standard facilities in 12 states, and according to Helling, most are within 250 miles of the boarder and are mostly repurposed hotels and schools. However, by the end of November, she said it “became apparent that we needed more beds.”

Which is why a little over two weeks ago the federal government began its contract with BCFS to begin its instantaneous emergency management placement of the children hailing from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Helling stated.

According to Helling, BCFS is being provided with a $12.9 million grant to provide a maximum of 300 beds over the next 30 days. However, she said that the “expensive operation” is “about double the cost” of what it would cost per bed in one of the organizations standard facilities. 

For those mathematically inept, the cost per bed is roughly $430, per day.

The organization’s grant is funded on a reimbursement model by the federal government – not given all at once – and is used to fund health care providers, security personnel and various other staffers to the temporary facilities as contracted by BCFS, Helling said. She also noted that the children are under a supervision ratio of eight-to-one while under the care of BCFS.

Earlier reports by several news outlets, including the Reporter, stated the 21-day housing could only take place once during a calendar year. However, after visiting the camp on Tuesday morning, Chambers and Somervell County Fire Marshal Dwayne Griffin were informed that notion was false.

After the 21 days, the organization and children are required to vacate the premises, but may return so long as the camp remains vacant and has no other conflicting events scheduled, BCFS officials have informed Chambers.

As of Wednesday morning, Chambers and the Reporter's staff were still looking for the legal language to the 21-day rule, but HHS officials remain firm on their understanding of the Texas law to read that a camp can only be utilized for 21 days every 12 months.

Whichever the case, the unaccompanied children cannot remain or return to the camp while other children, groups or citizens are present, Chambers assured. He also reiterated the fact that he is not against helping children, but is “upset with the way the government has handled the situation.”

There have also been several media outlets report that the unaccompanied children are under BCFS’ supervision for 30 days and then either released or deported – claims that are untrue, according to Helling.

Instead, the average time a child is under the supervision of the organization is 30 days, but some may remain longer if a sponsor cannot be immediately located, Helling said. A sponsor is “most often” the parent of the child who has already entered the country legally, but is sometimes a direct blood relative, such as a brother, sister or grandparent, she added.

If neither of those options are available, Helling said the organization will then seek to locate a godparent or family friend to place the child with, and only a “very small percentage” are placed in long-term foster care. She also added that only “a couple” children each year reach the age of 18, and “once they leave our care, they are released to immigration proceedings.”

Several Somervell County residents have asked how they can assist or donate to Camp Arrowhead over the coming weeks, and according to Thomas, that answer is to hold tight and continue to donate to local non-profits, instead. Neither BCFS, nor Camp Arrowhead, can accept donations on behalf of an individual during the unaccompanied children’s stay.

HHS released a statement on Wednesday morning to address the donation issue and stated that while the department is "grateful for the outpouring of support and compassion" that the "needs [of the youth] are all being met while they are in this transitory stage, preparing to be reunited with their families.

"We’d instead prefer that donations be made to other local organizations that support community members in need."

More information on the arrival, departure, state of the camp, safety issues and donation places will be provided as it becomes available.

*UPDATES, CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS: Wednesday, Dec. 23 -The Office of Refugee Resettlement runs the 12 standard facilities, not BCFS. Wednesday, Dec. 23 - Donation guidelines added, per HHS officials. Wednesday, Dec. 23 - HHS officials clarify their understanding of the 21-day rule to be based on a 12 month basis, despite BCFS claims to Judge Danny Chambers.