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Tuesday, 31 July 2018

'It happened, and it happened twice': 6-year-old girl reportedly abused at migrant shelter

Moments before Melania Trump’s arrival at a Phoenix Southwest Key facility protesters chant “Melania Trump you cant hide, we can see your racist side.” Shakkira Harris, The Republic |
PHOENIX – A 6-year-old girl who was separated from her mother under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" border policy was reportedly sexually abused by another child at a facility for migrant children run by Southwest Key, according to a form provided by the child's family.
As first reported by The Nation, the child was assaulted twice during her stay at Casa Glendale in the Phoenix area. 
The child, without any parental permission, also was forced to sign a document saying she would stay away from anyone associated with the abuse, according to a migrant advocate.
Jeff Eller, a spokesman for Southwest Key, told The Arizona Republic Friday that officials in charge of caring for the child and handling the case made a mistake labeling the incident as "sexual abuse,” when it should have been characterized as “inappropriate behavior.”
Southwest Key, a Texas-based nonprofit, houses more than 1,500 migrant children in Arizona, California and Texas under a $458 million contract with the federal Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. Eight of those facilities are in Arizona.
Employees at two Arizona Southwest Key facilities have been accused of inappropriate contact with minors on at least two occasions since 2015, including an incident that led to a conviction for sexual abuse, police records show.Exterior of Southwest Key in Tucson, on June 20, 2018. Southwest Key, a non-profit agency,  runs shelters for immigrant children.
Southwest Key facilities, which already were set up to house children who crossed the border illegally without a parent, were a quick fix for dealing with the flow of children forcibly separated from their  parents under the "zero tolerance" policy.
Exterior of Southwest Key in Tucson, on June 20, 2018. Southwest Key, a non-profit agency,  runs shelters for immigrant children.Mark Lane, a family spokesman who runs Poppa's House, an organization that supports migrants, said Southwest Key is covering its tracks about the abuse. 
“It happened, and it happened twice,” Lane said of the abuse. “That’s a nice way to backtrack. They got to put lipstick on it, that’s what spokespeople and publicists do.”
Lane said the child was forced to sign a form that told her she had to stay away from her attacker.
"For a 6-year-old to be taken into a counseling session like that and to be held responsible and to be told to sign a document like that,” he said. “People can’t believe they had a 6-year-old girl sign that she was responsible for making sure she didn’t get molested again."
The form says, "I confirm that the safety plan was reviewed with me and I understand that it is my responsibility to follow the safety plan."

The form is signed by an odd-shaped "D" in what appears to be a child's handwriting. After the signature, in parentheses, written in an adult's handwriting, it says: "tender age.''
The form provided to The Republic is stamped with a Southwest Key Programs emblem. It is titled: "PREA Safety Plan." Under the type of incident, written in black ink, are two words: "Sexual Abuse." 
PREA stands for “Prison Rape Elimination Act,'' a reference to a federal law.

Under a "synopsis of the incident," the allegations are repeated with more detail.
"The Department of Y.C.W. reported that the client has presented sexually inappropriate behavior since about a week."
Two forms of multiple possible interventions are marked with a large X.
Maintain my distance from the other youth involved.
Psychoeducation topics provided: Reporting abuse. Good touch. Bad touch.
Lane said the girl was assaulted once on June 4, which is the date listed on the form.
After the alleged assault, Lane said, the girl's father, who is not releasing his name to protect his daughter and wife, was called by Southwest Key Director Silvia Zavala.
Zavala, he said, told the father details of what had happened to his daughter.
"They also said there were other girls involved and they were going to change protocols. It won't happen again," Lane said.
Then, the father got another call from a Southwest Key employee.
"They called 10 days later to say it happened again, with the same boy," Lane said. "He'd already been told that his daughter had been fondled once, now it happened again, that's when he went into high gear."
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, after a tour of a shelter for migrant kids on July 6, 2018, says the children are being cared for but ultimately it left him sad. Kaila White, The Republic |
In a Southwest Key statement addressing the allegations, officials said there was an addendum to the original report. The addendum states the 6-year-old girl said the boy didn’t touch her and this was not sexual abuse.
The original report and the addendum were sent to federal agencies and to the state, according to the statement.
Eller did not immediately return a follow-up call for clarification on whether he was referring to both allegations of abuse being mistakenly labeled or to confirm whether there was a second abuse incident. 
The father was sent a packet to fill out and was told that officials were going to release his daughter to him.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva says “I’m assuming I’m seeing the best of” Tucson immigration facility and that the delay “lowers the believability factor.” Kaila White, The Republic |
The mother, who is from Guatemala, was separated from her child in late May in Texas, Lane said. She told officials about her husband, the child's father, and provided his phone number.
The mother remained in a Texas immigration detention facility, while her child was transferred to the Southwest Key facility in Arizona.
Lane said that shortly after the second alleged assault and receiving forms to obtain custody of his daughter, the father was informed that they would no longer release his daughter to him.
That, Lane says, is when the desperate father reached out to Families Belong Together, a grassroots organization that has been fundraising to help parents reunite with their children. After a series of calls to migrant-rights advocates, the father was put in touch with Lane and California-based attorney Franciso Aldana.
They received word about a week ago, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials planned to reunite the child with her mother in Texas. The child was transferred to an ICE facility, Lane said, and held with her mother overnight. 
They were released together on July 18. The mother has a pending asylum case. She and her daughter have been reunited with the girl's father.
"Mom is pretty strong," Lane said. "Dad is very optimistic. He said he's happy to have his wife and kid back where he feels like he can take care of them."
Their little girl is not adjusting as well, Lane said. 
She's "standoffish," like she's programmed and afraid that she's still under the rules of the facility, he said. 
"She's afraid about going back to that place that they 'make me sleep alone with the other kids,'" Lane said.
The parents plan to get counseling for the daughter and for themselves.
Lane said the attorney is handling the immigration case and looking into a civil suit. He said he does not know if Southwest Key officials reported the abuse to police and the parents have not done so yet either.
Eller released a statement late Friday that said staff at the shelter talked to the children involved, assigned one-on-one supervision of the alleged offender and learned that the alleged victim said she was never touched. In addition, video footage from the facility did not provide any evidence of a child being sexually abused, he said.
Eller told The Republicthe shelter erred in labeling its initial report as “sexual abuse,” when it should have been characterized as “inappropriate behavior.”
“We screwed up,” Eller said. “We mislabeled it as sexual abuse. That’s on us.”
Eller said another child at the shelter told staff that a 5-year-old boy had touched a 6-year-old girl, triggering the initial June 4 report. The report is made on a form required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In its statement, Southwest Key said that form is required to be filled out for a broad range of incidents.
The 5-year-old had been sexually acting out, Eller said. When asked if that behavior involved another child, he said he did not know.
Southwest Key said, in addition to state officials, it notified the federal offices involved in shelter oversight — namely the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and HHS’ inspector general.
Lane said none of this would have happened had the child remained with her mother or been released to her father.
“I think that it’s important to know that once you separate a child from their parents, all bets are off and anything can happen when we don’t know who’s taking care of them,” Lane said.
Republic reporter Agnel Philip contributed to this article.

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