By Rebecca “Becky” Gibson, Program Coordinator, Lutheran Services Carolinas

The newest foster care initiative for Lutheran Services Carolinas is Transitional Foster Care for Unaccompanied Children, located in Columbia, S.C. The program primarily serves children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who have made a dangerous journey in order to reach the safety of the United States. These children are coming to the U.S. to either reunite with family, flee violence and the pressure to join gangs in their home country, and/or flee abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They are being kept in immigration detention centers that are not appropriate for their young age, so many children under the age of 12 are referred to transitional foster care.

The goal of this program is to provide a safe and stable environment until the child moves to live with a sponsor (parent, relative, etc.), while he or she awaits an immigration hearing. The goal is for family reunification, whether it’s in the U.S. or the child’s home country, within 14-90 days, with the average stay in our care at 30 days.

The time these children spend in our program is very important. They will have arrived in the U.S., been detained, and then moved from the immigration detention center into one of our foster homes all within the first 72 hours. We have the privilege to show these children love and provide a safe and caring environment while they are part of our program.

Imagine as a child how relieved you would feel to make it to the U.S. after a long journey, but also how scared you would be in the detention center, and how confused you would be while being transported to a new place, only hoping you would someday be able to reunite with your parents or someone in the U.S. who would care for you. Our foster families care for these children at a critical time in their lives, and serve as a bridge between entering this new country and reuniting with family. Our program coordinator, case manager, clinician, and teacher speak fluent Spanish and are able to assist our foster families with communication. Everyone, however, understands love.

We are looking for loving foster parents, committed classroom volunteers, and community partners. There are many ways to get involved and help “welcome the stranger.” If you are interested in getting involved please contact ucinfo@lscarolinas.net or (803) 849-4009.

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