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7th Child Sex Abuse Allegation At Homestead Migrant Shelter

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - An article published Thursday by The News Service of Florida shows that there's been another allegation of child sexual abuse at the Homestead detention facility for undocumented children.

That brings the number to 7 since last August.

Ana Ceballos is the reporter working the story for The News Service of Florida.

"The reality is we don't know how big of a problem it is," Ceballos said.

Ceballos said she requested documents from the Florida Department of Children and Families who typically turn the cases of alleged abuse at the facility over to the feds. Ceballos' article says DCF mistakenly accepted the latest allegation of abuse from May and got revealed to her through a public records request.

She said two of the seven sexual abuse allegations apparently involved caregivers and the others involved child on child sexual abuse.

"When it involved caregivers, they did investigate the two cases and they found no indicators of abuse so that was a closed case," Ceballos said. "In terms of the sexual abuse, child on child, it gets lost in a kind of black box of information."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Homestead facility, told CBS 4 News they take the allegations of sexual abuse "extremely seriously."

They added, "In fact, because we take sexual abuse so seriously we require extraordinarily comprehensive reporting by all ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) shelters of both sexual abuse and sexual harassment, including inappropriate sexual behavior."

The agency says they have strict guidelines in place for staff training, qualifications, background checks and reporting allegations of abuse.

In numbers published this week by the agency, there are approximately 2,450 unaccompanied minors ages 13-17 at the facility.

The average length of stay is 36 days for minors who've been discharged in the past month. Since the shelter opened in March 2018, there have been 13,300 unaccompanied minors placed at the shelter and approximately 10,800 have been placed with a "suitable sponsor."

"I have a high level of concern about the safety of the children at this child detention facility in Homestead," said State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Rodriguez wants state leaders to get more involved and to see increased transparency and access to the facility.

"We need to make sure law enforcement, Department of Children and Families have access to everything they need in order to investigate these allegations, prevent future harm and make sure these kids are getting the services they need," he said.

Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said, "When is enough, enough? Allegations of abuse and neglect are rampant in part because (President) Trump and Alex Azar are allowing a private company to prioritize profit over the well-being of vulnerable children," she said in a statement. "I will continue to urge the Administration to bring the Homestead facility to come into compliance with existing law or be shut down."

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz also called for greater transparency at the Homestead facility.

"These are deeply troubling allegations, and they only strengthen my belief that the unlicensed, abhorrent Homestead facility must ultimately be closed," she said in a statement. "In the near term, we need unimpeded Congressional oversight at this facility to ensure the children there receive comprehensive support and services and are treated with dignity. This administration must do everything within its power to get these children processed more quickly out of these prison-like ORR detention facilities. If they won't, then Congress must force the issue legislatively."

The Department of Health and Human Services did not say whether anyone has been charged or arrested as a result of the sexual abuse allegations. The agency did say that when an allegation of sexual abuse involving an adult it must be reported to police and an employee must be suspended from duties involving minors.

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