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Serving Unaccompanied Refugee Minors

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Did you know that more than half of the world’s refugees are children? In light of the recent influx of unaccompanied minors arriving into the United States from Latin America, CCDOC’s Refugee Resettlement Office thought it might be an appropriate time to reflect on what comprehensive case management services look like for the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM’s) that we serve. Although we are not currently providing services to any unaccompanied children from Latin America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has recommended that the US strengthen protections for these children and emphasize their best interests rather than the blind enforcement of immigration law. (For more information on this report, please visit the USCCB website

We are proud to be a part of a complex, international network that serves refugee children who have become separated from their parents and other family members, an incredibly vulnerable population that requires special care and protections throughout the resettlement process. The URM’s we serve have fled from persecution (or fear of persecution) within their home countries to a second country of asylum. Their cases have been processed by such respected organizations as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, the U.S. Department of State, and the International Organization of Migration before they are ever able to touch down at Charlotte Douglas. Our goal is to ensure that the best interests of these children are secured as they enter, integrate, and thrive in their new homes, and that they are provided with appropriate ongoing care and individualized services. 

While there are different categorizations of URM’s, which can affect technical aspects of their resettlement, case managers at CCDOC provide all of our clients, and their future legal guardians, with comprehensive cultural orientations, covering topics ranging from appropriate hygiene practices to the federal laws surrounding neglect and child abuse. We also perform regular home visits for the purpose of determining the suitability of the minors’ placement, intentionally creating safe spaces for our clients to articulate their own feelings and concerns about their new homes and the cultural adjustment process. Although we are only required to visit our URM clients three times, many caseworkers try to take the time to visit these special children more regularly in order to make note of their physical health, visible adjustment indicators, and overall disposition. We also connect these clients to the International Center for registration and placement in a CMS school that can offer appropriate ESL assistance, providing them with required uniforms, book bags, and other school essentials. After applying for Food Stamps, Medicaid, and cash assistance for the client at the Department of Social Services, we ensure that all their health needs are met, beginning with a screening at the Mecklenburg County Health Department, where they receive all their necessary immunizations. In addition to each of these services that are offered to all our clients, we treat each case in as individualized and specialized a way as possible, taking into account and following up on special medical considerations, mental health requirements, and a myriad of other concerns.

We hope that our treatment of our URM clients can help to create a comprehensive picture of what excellent services look like when working with other unaccompanied minors in the US. The unique vulnerabilities of URM’s are contrasted with their incredible potential to truly flourish in the United States, and for this reason, we recognize that they are a very special group that deserve the best available services, delivered with absolute dignity and respect.

 

by Katrina Hruska
AmeriCorps Member

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