Caring for Migrant Children
No matter who walks through our doors, the heart of our work will always be about helping human beings recover from deep trauma, or intervening to prevent and minimize trauma in the first place.
We were first asked to care for unaccompanied children crossing our borders in 2013. The children travel hundreds and some over a thousand miles fleeing violence, poverty, hunger, and abuse, mainly from Central America. Each child's story is different yet all are heartbreaking. Their journey takes a physical and emotional toll. Many are malnourished when they arrive from a life-time of insufficient nutrients. But they are full of hope for a better life.
When the children reach safety in the United States, the U.S. Border Patrol takes them into temporary custody and then in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement places the children in short term care in programs with organizations like Abbott House that are skilled at meeting the emotional and medical needs of the children.
We named our program Transitional Resources for Children (TRC) because we know how important it is for these children to be reunited with their parents and family members. We are but one step on their journey and we want the children to know that is our aim to provide the most nurturing care and support possible.
Since unaccompanied children started to arrive at Abbott House, we have cared for over 600 children and have successfully reunited them with their family or sponsor. Some stay in our program for approximately 30 days, and some, who are unable to be reunited for a variety of reasons, are with bi-lingual foster families who we hope will adopt them.
The circumstances of each child and family is different. Sometimes, we are able to reunite them with their family in just a few weeks. For others it takes longer. We have already been in contact with the majority of the families. We work with the families to honor their plans and preferences for the children. We also vet every single member or sponsor to ensure the children can safely be reunited. This can sometimes take a little longer, but we want to make sure that the children will not be in harm's way.
Recently, in addition to unaccompanied children, we received children who were separated from their parents. We deeply understand that separating children from their families is traumatizing. We see this every day with the hundreds of children we also support in foster care. Their arrival at Abbott House though, only deepens our resolve to provide our very best care and work hard to help reunite every child with their family.
So let me tell you more about how we provide exceptional care and support for all 51 of our immigrant children:
Our staff are bi-lingual, compassionate and loving. When the kids want and need a hug...they get one! When a child needs additional emotional support, our expert social workers and clinicians are on hand to provide trauma informed care. We know it is not easy for the kids. It is not easy for our staff either. But we all know we can count on each other to do our best to help them.
We have staff with different areas of expertise such as physicians, physician assistants, social workers, case planners, cooks, general care-takers and teachers. Each member of our staff uses their expertise and training to provide for the needs of each child. This includes of course, their medical and emotional needs as well as day-to-day living.
The children sleep in cozy rooms with colorful walls and blankets. They hang their artwork on the walls and some like to put stickers on the dressers. Everyone gets a Teddy Bear! Our cafeteria has beautiful murals on the wall. We have an indoor gym and exercise room for cold and rainy days and a soccer field and basketball court.
The children are in school from 9am to 3pm during the week, all year round. They are taught by bi-lingual certified teachers and supervised by a certified principal. The children are evaluated academically and exposed to English, Math, Social Studies and Science. The goal is to begin the process of teaching the children basic English, assessing their abilities and providing a foundation of learning. With children leaving the program to be reunited with their family and with others arriving, the education they receive is on a short term basis and should not be confused with the education offered when a child has roots within a community's school system.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement provides the funds that cover staff salaries and the basic needs of the children and their well-being. Abbott House is a not-for-profit and non-political organization. We do not make a profit from this program. We struggle to break-even and depend on a partnership with the community to provide the additional support and resources needed.
One area of our community partnership is recreational activities. We partner with local Houses of Worship and other organizations to provide both spiritual opportunities for the children and recreational activities. We also take the children to movies, bowling, the zoo, museums, and trips to local high schools. We even had the NY Liberty team and coaches come do an awesome basketball clinic. The immigrant children also participate in activities that give back to our community. For example. they made winter scarfs for the homeless in Westchester. With your help we can do more.
Thanks to our partners at Catholic Charities, each child has legal representation. They also provide advocates for children.
People often ask, why do we take in children who were separated from their parents? The simple answer is that we have been doing this for the last 54 years with children that are placed in our foster care program. We have what it takes to give them the very best nurturing environment until they can be reunited with their families.
"Keeping families together is what Abbott House does best. We would rather know that these children are in a safe, compassionate environment like Abbott House as opposed to other options," says James L. Kaufman, President and CEO.
There are several ways you can partner with us in supporting those entrusted in our care: