Supporting vulnerable child migrants
Unaccompanied migrant children have been arriving in the US in increasing numbers over the past ten years. Recently these figures have grown to such a degree that the US President has deemed the situation a ‘humanitarian emergency’. In 2012 the number of unaccompanied children migrating across the border from South and Central America was about 24,000. By 2014 that number had almost tripled to more than 68,000.
Just what is fuelling this mass exodus? A new US Department of Homeland Security report has attributed the problem to poverty and regional violence in South and Central American countries, particularly Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where rates of homicide are extraordinarily high. The report shows that many of the unaccompanied minors come from some of the most dangerous cities in Central America and often they are fleeing violence.
These children have undertaken dangerous journeys of thousands of miles to travel to the US without their parents or guardians in the hope of a better life. Some have one parent they wish to join already in the country. Approximately 73 per cent are male and 27 per cent are female. Some 24 per cent of these children are below the age of 14.
The United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) works to protect the rights and address the needs of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide. It helps newly arrived refugee families in practical ways, for example in finding and furnishing their first apartments, mastering the public transportation system, enrolling their children in school, finding a doctor, learning English and obtaining employment. It provides legal aid and it also assists refugees during the challenging process of overcoming past trauma and grief by helping them develop new support systems in America.
Many unaccompanied child migrants have suffered great trauma in their home countries and on their journeys to the US. Having witnessed violent acts being carried out against their family and friends, or having experienced them first-hand, many need specialised mental healthcare services to address post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns.
“Since 2011 we have seen a great need for an increase in mental health and legal services. There has been a decrease in state funding that assists uninsured or underinsured people in this state.”
- Amy Schafer, Programme Officer, USCRI
However, there are barriers, both linguistic and financial, to child migrants accessing the legal and mental health services they need. In addition they often do not know how to navigate the system. “The level of care that most of our clients needs is high,” said Amy. “Often they’ve suffered trauma, abuse – some have been in psychiatric inpatient centres. We also have many sexual assault victims, females especially.”
Oak’s grant to USCRI will help it to supply these much-needed services. “This grant will help offer bilingual mental health and legal services and I think it’s going to benefit a lot of children who are not being served, who have experienced a lot of difficulties in their lives,” said Lena White, a case manager and home study worker with USCRI. “Without putting a financial burden on their families, these children will be able to get the visas and the legal status that they qualify for.”
It is hoped that this will help increase the children’s sense of security, giving them hope for a brighter future. Over the next two years, USCRI will hire clinicians, programme managers, lawyers and legal assistants. All will be bilingual (English and Spanish speaking) and able to supply the children with the services they need.
Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report
Year of publication: 2015