Guiding and assisting unaccompanied youth and their Rhode Island-based sponsors
Each year, many unaccompanied youth (immigrant children under the age of 18 who have traveled to the United States without a parent or guardian) make the journey to the United States to escape violence, including domestic violence, exploitation or persecution in their home countries. These children often travel hundreds of miles without an adult guardian in dangerous conditions to seek asylum and/or to be placed with a sponsor in the U.S. who can provide and care for them. Those who are not able to secure a sponsor are placed in foster care. When an unaccompanied minor first reaches the U.S. border, the child is held by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials before being transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Heartland Alliance has subcontracted with Dorcas International to assist Rhode Island-based sponsors in welcoming newly arrived unaccompanied youth into their homes. The ORR first administers a referral for a child to be placed with a sponsor, who is usually the biological parent(s) or a related family member (but can also be an unrelated sponsor, family friend, or an institutional/organizational sponsor), here in the state. Before the child arrives, case managers at Dorcas International provide an extensive home study to ensure the suitability of the home environment of the sponsor and to assess if it is safe and suitable for the child.
Once the child arrives, we conduct regular home checks/visits to make sure the home environment is stable, and we provide assistance to help the sponsor access vital resources for the minor, such as healthcare, education (for example, we partner with the Newcomer Program to help school-age children acclimate to their new environment and to close any educational gaps before attending a local public school), and pro bono lawyers to follow up on the unaccompanied minor’s case for asylum and/or to create a pathway toward gaining Permanent Residence Status and/or Citizenship.
Dorcas International has also implemented an optional volunteer-based mentor program that offers sponsor families the opportunity to have the unaccompanied youth paired with a fully vetted and trained mentor who can help them further adapt and feel comfortable in their new environment. We also partner with other area agencies to provide additional family support.
Currently, four or five unaccompanied children are united with sponsors every month here in Rhode Island through Dorcas International, and in total we serve between 80 and 90 families per year. The majority of unaccompanied youth migrate from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. When we are able, we also assist with referrals for placements in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.
Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island strives to create a welcoming environment for all, working to empower the most vulnerable among us for more than 100 years. We meet our clients where they are by providing integrated, wraparound programs and services helping those seeking to overcome educational, cultural, economic, and language barriers.