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We’re Writing About Problems at the Immigrant Shelters Housing Children and Teens — in English and Español

“Lax” supervision at Heartland shelters contributed to runaways, sexual activity and alleged inappropriate relationships.

ProPublica Illinois reporters Duaa Eldeib, Jodi S. Cohen and Melissa Sanchez. (Vignesh Ramachandran/ProPublica Illinois)

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

Hi and hola. This week we wanted to tell you about our reporting on what’s happening inside the 11 shelters for immigrant children in Illinois — and how you can help us do more. We published a story on Thursday that revealed how “lax” supervision at these shelters — nearly all run by a prominent nonprofit that has received little scrutiny until now — has contributed to sex between children, an alleged inappropriate relationship between an employee and a teenager, and at least 10 runaways. The story followed another last week about these shelters, all but two of which are run by Heartland Human Care Services. Heartland officials said the incidents “represent highly rare occasions,” that they take “swift and appropriate action” when necessary, and report all incidents to state and federal authorities.

We also are publishing these stories en español. This is something we’ve wanted to do for some time and these stories, in particular, are so important to many people in Chicago’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. We want to give a shout-out to Carmen Méndez, our translator, and to our new Spanish-language media partners who are helping us get the word out: Univision Chicago and Sin Censura Con Vicente Serrano. If you want to be our partner, or just steal our stories to republish, here’s how.

Our colleagues at the national ProPublica office also are doing more — both on immigration, and to reach Spanish-language audiences. Here’s a story reporters Michael Grabell and Topher Sanders published last week on sex abuse at shelters for unaccompanied minors, and another from Kavitha Surana on the reunification of an immigrant mother with her daughter after more than 100 days of separation. And here’s a new page we unveiled this week that’s home for all of the stories we’ve translated into Spanish.

Finally, we want to ask for your help. We plan to continue reporting on the conditions for the thousands of immigrant children who are housed in Illinois shelters. Five are in Chicago and six are in the suburbs. Please reach out if you know of a child who has been detained, if you work or used to work at one of the shelters, or if you have any information or documents you’d like to share. Here’s some information about how to do that, in English, español and português.

You also can always contact us directly — [email protected], (hablo español), [email protected] and [email protected] (I speak Arabic) or call us at 708-967-5725.

Thank you.

—Melissa Sanchez, Jodi S. Cohen and Duaa Eldeib

Where we’ve been in the news this week:

On our investigation into Chicago-area immigrant shelters:

On how the hike in cost of Chicago city sticker violations is leading more black drivers to file for bankruptcy:

  • Melissa Sanchez joined John Williams on on WGN radio: “It doesn’t make sense to charge this much for a ticket when only one in three people are paying for it.” Listen.
  • Melissa Sanchez and WBEZ’s Elliott Ramos joined WVON’s Perri Small and encouraged people to call in and share their stories.

Also: Mick Dumke joined Tariq I. El-Amin on Radio Islam, a Chicago-based talk show on WCEV, to talk about his reporting on the Chicago Police Department’s error-ridden gang database and public surveillance. Listen here. Read the full story.

Do you have a tip about something we should be investigating? Do you have documents or other materials that we should see? We want to hear from you — and you can contact us safely, securely and anonymously if you prefer.

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Portrait of Melissa Sanchez

Melissa Sanchez

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter at ProPublica who is focused on immigrants and low-wage workers.

Portrait of Jodi S. Cohen

Jodi S. Cohen

Jodi S. Cohen is a reporter for ProPublica, where she has revealed misconduct in a psychiatric research study at the University of Illinois at Chicago, exposed a college financial aid scam and uncovered flaws in the Chicago Police Department’s disciplinary system.

Portrait of Duaa Eldeib

Duaa Eldeib

Duaa Eldeib is currently investigating issues related to health inequities and race. Send tips and documents her way.

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