Hundreds of foster homes, small facilities for unaccompanied minors remain unused

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Hundreds of transitional shelters and small group facilities for the many unaccompanied minors crossing the border are not in use, the Associated Press reported.

Four providers told the AP they had approved foster families waiting to welcome children, while two providers said about a third of the beds available in the past month had not been used. .

As Americans get vaccinated and other coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, more and more people are interested in taking on childcare duties. The government has been urged to move more children to foster homes more quickly.

“The United States rejected large-scale institutional care for children over 110 years ago, and we should not accept it today for children who seek protection within our borders.” said Chris Palusky, director of Bethany Christian Services, which places migrant children in foster homes. “Children belong to a family. “

For more Associated Press reporting, see below.

TOPSHOT – Migrants wait to be treated by the United States Border Patrol, after crossing the Rio Grande to the United States in Roma, Texas, July 7, 2021. Hundreds of beds with foster homes and facilities small groups are not being used as the government slowly moves towards placing unaccompanied migrant children.
Paul Ratje / Getty Images

Chris Umphlett and his family worked in a modest way to help a 12-year-old girl from Honduras – who barely spoke a word when she arrived after crossing the Mexican border alone – to feel comfortable in their home in Michigan.

The couple and their four young children who live in the town of East Lansing have invited her on walks and bike rides, and have watched Disney movies with Spanish subtitles. A Honduran woman from their church prepared a homemade Honduran meal of meat, kidney beans and leches cake, which brought a smile to the face.

“I imagine its first introduction to the United States was probably not very friendly, was probably confusing,” said Umphlett, 37, who works for a software company. “We tried to give him a better experience.”

As record numbers of children fled violence from Central America and crossed the Mexican border on their own this spring, most were sent to large-scale emergency shelters that the Biden administration quickly opened at bases military, convention centers and fairgrounds.

The 12-year-old was one of the luckiest, instead placed with an American family while American authorities contacted and vetted her mother, who lives in Texas.

Transitional foster homes, where families are allowed to care for migrant children, are widely viewed as the best option for children detained in the United States, especially for traumatized, very young, pregnant or teenage parents and in need of additional emotional support. .

While there are not yet enough families allowed to take in the thousands of children in U.S. custody, advocates say the homes could accommodate many children under 12 and other young people. vulnerable, such as pregnant teenagers, now in unlicensed government shelters. . At the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona last week, there were some 300 children under the age of 12 among the nearly 1,400 minors housed.

The risk of psychological and emotional harm increases the longer children stay in shelters, according to a case filed in federal court on June 22 by lawyers overseeing the care of minors detained in the United States as part of ‘a long-standing judicial settlement.

At the end of May, when around 500 transitional foster home beds were unoccupied, there were children aged 5 and 6 who had spent more than a month in shelters, according to the court record.

“What a child receives at a shelter will never be compared to the love of a parent caring for a child,” said Kayla Park of Samaritas, the provider who connects the Umphlett family with the migrant children. “They can put them to bed at night or maybe the children in the family play with them. This kind of human interaction is so necessary and cannot be replicated in a shelter.”

The Biden administration said it wasn’t just about filling beds. Some siblings might need to travel to a shelter to stay together or to have space to self-quarantine if someone tests positive for the coronavirus, so leaving beds unoccupied is necessary to cope with the circumstances. who are showing up, said Xavier, secretary of health and social services. Becerra told reporters last week.

“You take a hit trying to fully maximize your space,” Becerra said when asked about unoccupied allowed beds after visiting a shelter housing 800 children at the Fort Bliss military base near El Paso. , Texas, which has been plagued by complaints.

Providers agree that foster care is more complicated for placements because age and gender must be taken into account, especially in homes where migrant children may share a room with family children, like in the Umphlett household, which only accepts girls 12 and under. .

And the pandemic has constrained things further. Many families did not want to take a child directly to the border for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus.

Other families were not equipped to accommodate someone while they worked at home with children doing virtual learning, such as the Umphletts, who did not take in anyone until March of this year.

But providers, like the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of families interested in welcoming migrant children, providing an opportunity to be seized, its director Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said.

“I really believe that if we invest and focus on building this network of prospective foster parents, these homes can and should be the medium to long term solution so that we don’t have to depend on the facilities of influx in the future, ”she said. noted.

The Honduran girl stayed at the Umphlett Home for a month until mid-April. Two months passed before Umphletts got another referral for another Central American child.

“I hope they send children to foster homes before they send them to a convention center,” Umphlett said. “A house with a family is always better than a mass camp, even if you are well cared for and not neglected.”

Umphlett’s family saw a transformation in the shy Honduran girl during her stay. “At first she was so shy that she wouldn’t accept anything,” he said.

Over time, she opened up and took part in bike rides and playing with Magna-Tiles, colorful magnetic blocks. The family speak limited Spanish but have used Google Translate and body language to communicate. Two weeks after arriving home, the girl not only smiled, but joked with his wife.

On the day she left, the girl who barely spoke a word when she arrived hugged Umphlett and his wife.

Still, it wasn’t a tearful goodbye.

“We approach this with the idea that the goal is to get you to your parent or family member as soon as possible,” he said. “So it’s a happy time.”

Foster homes awaiting migrant children
Chris and Kristen Umphlett and their children, left to right, Derek 7, Elsie, 3, Kyria, 9, and Hudson, 5, are shown on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at their home in East Lansing, Michigan. The Umphletts took in unaccompanied children. migrant children during the pandemic.
Al Goldis / Associated press

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