Disability Rights Florida wins national award
Disability Rights Florida (DRF), the state’s designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities, was awarded the National Disability Rights Network’s (NDRN) annual Advocacy Award earlier this month for its work protecting immigrant children with disabilities living in the Homestead Emergency Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children.
Announced at the annual national conference, which was held virtually this year, the Advocacy Award recognizes an NDRN member organization or individual with disabilities who has successfully advocated for improvements in services that not only benefitted an individual, but also the broader community of people with disabilities.
In 2018 and 2019, DRF staff conducted monitoring visits of the Homestead facility – a detention facility for migrant children who were separated from their parents – located on Homestead Airforce Reserve Base to determine if any of the children placed in the facility were individuals with disabilities and, if so, were they at risk of being subjected to abuse, neglect, or other violations of their rights.
In a Public Report, DRF concluded, “It is widely acknowledged that many of the immigrant children detained by the federal government at Homestead Shelter have experienced significant trauma and need appropriate mental health care,” said Peter Sleasman, former legal director at Disability Rights Florida – current interim executive director – and the primary author of the report.
“Homestead, with a population of over 2,000 children at the time of our visit, was not staffed or designed to meet the needs of these children,” he said. “Subjecting children with disabilities to the overcrowded and impersonal conditions at Homestead for extended periods of time only exacerbates their symptoms and is a form of abuse and neglect in and of itself.”
Months later, the Office of Refugee Resettlement announced the closure of Homestead and transferred all children to other facilities.
Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. It provide free legal and advocacy services to people with disabilities through the authority and responsibility of nine federal grants.