LSC serving children taken from parents at Mexican border

SC. foster care program seeks to reunite separated families

By Katie Scarvey, Lutheran Services Carolinas

A foster care program in South Carolina operated by Lutheran Services Carolinas has received five of the children who have been forcibly separated in recent weeks from their parents at the Mexican border.

The family separations began in April after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new zero-tolerance policy of criminal prosecution for everyone entering the country without documentation, with severe restrictions placed on those seeking legal asylum. Although widespread public outrage prompted an executive order that has halted the separations, more than 2,300 children were taken from their families, with some of those sent to transitional foster care programs like LSC’s.

For about a year, LSC’s Columbia-based Transitional Foster Care for Unaccompanied Children program has been receiving foster placement requests from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Specialized foster programs like LSC’s were designed to be more compassionate alternatives to detention centers.

Until recently, the children served by LSC’s program have come to the United States alone, or as part of a sibling group.

The 30 children LSC has served, which include the five children separated from their families at the border, have come from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador, says program coordinator Becky Gibson. Although the average stay of a child in the program has typically been about a month, Gibson expects the most recent arrivals to be in foster care for at least five weeks.

Reuniting children safely with family members, whether it be a family member in the U.S. or the family member who has been detained, is the program’s main goal.

“We are waiting direction from the Office of Refugee Resettlement on how to proceed with the reunification of detained parents and children,” Gibson says. “We are hopeful for a safe and well-developed plan to be put in place.”

The most recent arrivals, who are between the ages of 7 and 11, have little understanding of what is happening to them or why they have been taken from their parents, Gibson says.

To ease the fears of both parents and children, Gibson’s top priority when children arrive is to help them make contact with their parents by phone. That can be difficult, given the chaos of the border situation, but all of the children in LSC’s program have been able to be in contact with their parent, as well as family in their home country and/or the United States.

The children in LSC’s transitional foster care program are not “in detention,” and their setting is not restrictive. During the week they attend school with bilingual tutors, go on field trips, and receive counseling; evenings and weekends are spent with their foster family.

“We want to ensure these children are in safe, loving environments,” Gibson says. “Apart from the trauma they experienced at the border, they have also likely experienced trauma in their home countries.”

Gibson says it’s hard for some in this country to understand why parents would risk so much to bring their children here.

“Many of these families are desperate,” Gibson explains. “They are fleeing gang-related violence and feel they have no other choice if they want to keep their families safe. It’s hard for most people to imagine what these families have faced that would make them attempt such a difficult journey to the United States.”

LSC is only able to serve eight children at present and is looking for additional foster parents in the Columbia area so more children can receive care. Parents are not required to speak Spanish.

There is tremendous need for foster families around the country, and certainly here in the Carolinas,” said Ted Goins, president of LSC. “Finding families who will serve in this way is a top priority for us.”

The Transitional Foster Care program of Lutheran Services Carolinas has been caring for unaccompanied children who have made the dangerous journey to the United States alone, unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Due to recent changes in the application of policy, the program has now been called upon to also provide care for young children who have been separated from their parents at the Mexican border. Currently, there are five such children being served by LSC in Columbia. We are committed to doing our best for these children who have been through horrible ordeals. So what can you do to help?

IF YOU RESIDE IN THE COLUMBIA, SC AREA:

  • Become a foster parent! The process is the same as the Department of Social Services and Christy Chavis would be happy to give you more info cchavis@lscarolinas.net (803) 348-7416. Foster parents are provided with a daily stipend and a clothing allowance for each child.
  • Volunteer in our classroom! Flexible hours between 9am-4pm, Monday through Friday. Activities include reading, coloring, and playing with our kiddos! Background checks are required. Please email rgibson@lscarolinas.net for the Volunteer Application.
  • Invite us to speak at your church or community group! Help us spread the word about our program and learn more about why children are risking their lives to seek safety in the U.S.
  • Donate! Please see below for our Donation Request List.

IF YOU RESIDE OUTSIDE THE COLUMBIA, SC AREA:

  • Donate! Please see below for our Donation Request List.
  • Spread the word about our program with your friends in our area.

DONATION REQUEST LIST:
Cash donations to help defray the costs of maintaining this urgently needed program. Checks can be sent to the LSC office on Union Street in Columbia (see address below); please make checks out to LSC and add “Transitional Foster Care for Unaccompanied Minors” in the memo field. OR Go to LSCarolinas.net, click on Donate Now, select “Make a One Time Gift,” apply to LSC Child and Family Services, and be sure to note “Transitional Foster Care for Unaccompanied Minors” in the Comments box.

• New large suitcases or large duffel bags (for children to use when they travel to reunite with family)
• Gift cards to Walmart, Target, or (to get birthday treats and prizes for children)
• Michaels Gifts Cards for Arts and Craft supplies (our kids LOVE arts and crafts but those supplies are expensive!)
• Spanish children’s bibles

Our Amazon Wishlist

CASH AND IN-KIND DONATIONS CAN BE SENT TO:
Lutheran Services Carolinas
TFC Program
1118 Union St
Columbia SC 29201

Or you can donate online here.

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