Migrant children go to Florida shelters

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When the federal government suddenly emptied a South Florida detention center for migrant children in August, it was unclear exactly where more than 1,000 children had gone.

Federal officials said only that the children who had been staying at the controversial Homestead center were released to sponsors or transferred to state-licensed facilities that are part of a system of federally funded shelters across the nation.

But 48 of the children were sent to two Florida-licensed facilities, one in Miami Gardens and one in Lake Worth, which is the only state-approved shelter that exclusively cares for migrant teen girls, according to DaMonica Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families.

Records obtained by The News Service of Florida show the state conducted several checks on both facilities this year. The records give a glimpse of the relatively limited role the state plays in ensuring the well-being of children who were separated from their families after crossing the country's southern border and being detained.

"DCF is only responsible for licensing and monitoring for compliance with licensing standards," Smith said.

Both facilities receive millions of dollars under contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement to help the Trump administration deal with an influx of migrant children. Those children have come from the Homestead center, other facilities and the border.

Federal officials declined to comment on the operations of the Florida shelters due to the "privacy and security of the unaccompanied alien children." But they said it usually takes shelters in the federal network roughly 50 days to release children to their families or other sponsors, a reduction from the 93 days it took in November 2018.

The latest checks conducted by the state on one of the shelters took place in July. A Florida licensing specialist went to Lake Worth, in Palm Beach County, three months after the state approved a license for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to operate a 141-bed facility.