Twice in less than a year, the US federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.
The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June.
That number represents about 13 per cent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.
The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April.
Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.
"The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn't know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling," Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel's chair, said.
"Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable."
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were "lost".
"Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made," she said in a statement.
Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
Yesterday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in their custody.
An Associated Press investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay.
At the time, many adult sponsors didn't undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking.
Since then, HHS has boosted outreach to at-risk children deemed to need extra protection, and last year offered post-placement services to about one-third of unaccompanied minors, according to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
But advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them and never show up in court.
The legislation comes as the Trump administration faces litigation over its family separation policy at the US-Mexican border, which while it was in effect sent hundreds more children into the HHS system of shelters and foster care.
Some of those children have since been reunited with their families, while others have been placed with sponsors.
Oakley did not respond to questions regarding whether any of the children who the agency lost track of had been separated from their families before they were sent to live with sponsors.
The legislation is aimed at ensuring HHS does more to prevent abuse, runs background checks before placing children with sponsors, and notifies state governments before sending children to those states, the bill's sponsors said.
"The already challenging reality migrant children face is being made even more difficult and, too often, more dangerous," said the panel's top Democrat, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.
"This simply doesn't have to be the case and, as this legislation demonstrates, the solutions don't have to be partisan."
The White House has accused Democrats and the media of exploiting the photo.
Source: US ABC / 1 NEWS
A volunteer for an Arizona sheriff's office has probably saved the life of a dog that was tied to a semitrailer truck as it pulled out of a parking lot.
The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office says on its Facebook page that a sheriff's office volunteer Patrol-VIP "Volunteer in Protection" was at a gas station in Ash Fork this month when he saw the truck starting to leave with a dog leashed to the trailer bumper.
The dog was trying to keep pace with the truck as it headed toward an interstate highway. The patrol put on his flashers and siren and managed to stop the truck in time.
The close call was caught on the deputy's dashcam video.
The driver says he was distracted and forgot to unleash his dog. Charges aren't being considered. The dog was unharmed.
A volunteer for Arizona police has probably saved the life of a dog that was tied to a semitrailer truck as it pulled out of a petrol station.
Source: Associated Press
A damning inquiry into domestic violence in Samoa has attempted to pull back the "veil of silence" that shrouds the issue.
Source: 1 NEWS
Last week, the Commission of Inquiry released its 300-page report into what it called a crisis in the country.
But the problems identified are well known to many in Samoa.
Now, people are asking, what next?
The inquiry's findings were damning: one in five women will be raped in their lifetime, while nine out of every 10 Samoans will have had some experience with violence in the home.
Listen to more on Dateline PacificSamoa's ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, who also heads the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), said a national conversation was sorely needed.
Between 2012 and 2015 the number of reported cases more than trebled.
They've continued to worsen said Maiava.
"In spite of all the efforts we are making. We're making a lot of efforts," he said.
"The courts have been very innovative and all sorts of agencies are trying to address the problem of domestic violence, but it just gets worse."
In December 2016 the Inquiry was launched by Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi with Maiava as the chairperson.
Its initial focus was violence against women and girls, said Maiava.
"But in the process we found that violence in the disciplining and upbringing of children is a factor that in a crucial way plays into violence that women and girls face later in life and into violence in general in society."
The Commission spent 2017 listening to the accounts of Samoa's people attempting to understand the problem.
Mostly victims but some perpetrators as well.
Going from village to village throughout the country, they asked people for their stories and what they thought the solutions might be.
Launching the report last week the Prime Minister said the inquiry was, "a Samoan effort to look at the problem in Samoa with a view to formulating Samoan solutions".
Violence in the aiga - the family - violates core principles
Violence in the aiga - the family - violated the core principles of both Fa'asamoa and faith, said Tuila'epa.
"Family Violence in Samoa as the report highlights, sits behind a veil of silence which allows it to continue to menace the lives of our people especially the most vulnerable among us."
But the inquiry didn't hold back in its criticism of the government.
It called it out for tasking the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) with addressing domestic violence, but not giving it the power nor the budget to act.
In a submission to the inquiry the MWCSD said domestic violence was a "national crisis", however, "our legal mandate does not provide us with the necessary legal provisions or resources to be able to respond to domestic violence fully".
A lack of government funding for any victim support services has made the situation worse still.
It's crucial, said the inquiry chair Maiava, that the government invest wisely in victim support.
"It's important that the government provides support to NGO's doing work in this space," he said.
"Because government is not and they are reaching out to the community where help is needed."
There are currently no telephone helplines and the only service, Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG), is run on donations and volunteers' goodwill.
SVSG was set-up in 2005 with a focus on children but its offering grew to meet the needs of the community and today they provide the country's only shelter for family member seeking refuge from violence.
The nature of violence in Samoa is more serious today
The nature of violence in Samoa is more serious today according to SVSG's president, Siliniu Lina Chang.
"Perpetrators are becoming more innovative in the way they carry out violent acts," she said in a submission to the inquiry.
"In the old days it was just a case of scaring their wife but now it is about killing them".
In his address at the report's launch, Tuila'epa said the seeds of the crisis had been sown by many generations, and hinted that - finally - the government might take action.
"We are all complicit. Blame does not fall on the perpetrators alone. We all are party to a degree unknowingly," said the prime minister.
"Now, for the sake of the future, it is up to us and especially those in positions of power to stand up and be counted."
The report outlined 39 key recommendations, the first being the creation of a special agency to deal with domestic violence.
The government must take the lead, said the Inquiry Chair Maiava Iulai Toma, with the support of traditional institutions like the village fono.
"So effort will be concentrated and focused at the governmental level by and through the DVO," he said referring to the proposed new Domestic Violence Office.
"Effort will be concentrated and focused at the village level in the DV committees."
The church was not immune from criticism by the Inquiry and Maiava said it must also work to address the problems.
"I hope this report and its recommendations will lead to a concerted Samoan effort to address this problem."
What is clear to everyone, though, is that the need for action is urgent.
The inquiry is the first of a kind for the Pacific, and in a region where violence in the home is rampant, other countries will be looking to learn from Samoa's example.
- Reporting by Dominic Godfrey, RNZ Pacific Journalist