As a record number of the children fled the violence from Central America and crossed the Mexican border only this spring, most were sent to large-scale emergency shelters that the Biden administration quickly opened up in U.S. military bases, convention centers and fairgrounds.
Transitional foster homes, where families are licensed for care migrant children, are widely considered as the best option for children in US custody, especially for children who have been traumatized, are very young, pregnant or have adolescent parents and need extra emotional support.
Providers say that, in recent months, interest in fostering migrant children has grown, with Americans being vaccinated against coronavirus and that restrictions related to the virus in daily life have been lifted. They call on the government to move more children into foster homes.
In May, more than 22,000 migrant children were in U.S. government custody, as the United States struggled with the highest number of migrants arriving at its southern border in 21 years.
Chris Umphlett and his family welcomed a 12-year-old girl from Honduras for a month to her Michigan home while U.S. officials contacted and verified her mother, who lives in Texas. She barely heard a word when she arrived after crossing the Mexican border alone.
The couple and their four children, who live in the city of East Lansing, were invited to walk and bike, and watched Disney movies subtitled in Spanish. A Honduran woman from her church made a homemade Honduran meal of meat and red beans and three leches cake, which she had a smile on her face.
“I imagined that her first introduction to the United States was probably not super friendly, she was probably confused,” said Umphlett, 37, who works for a software company. “We’re trying to give them a better experience.”
While there are not enough licensed families to accommodate thousands of children Custody of the US, Advocates say the homes could take several children under the age of 12 and other vulnerable youth, such as pregnant teens, now in government-licensed shelters. At the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, last week there were about 300 children under the age of 12 among the nearly 1,400 minors housed here.
The psychological and emotional risk male growing children are being held in shelters, according to a June 22 federal court ruling by attorneys following the care of minors in U.S. custody under a long-standing justice agreement.
At the end of May, when about 500 transitional reception beds were occupied, there were children aged 5 and 6 who had spent more than a month in the shelters, according to the court.
“What a child receives in a shelter will never be compared to the love of a parent caring for a child,” said Kayla Park of Samaritas, the provider that connects the Umphlett family with migrant children. “They could put them to bed at night or maybe the children in the family would play with them. This kind of human interaction is so necessary and can’t be replicated in a shelter.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has said it’s not just about filling the beds. Some siblings may be able to go to a shelter to stay together or to have space to quarantine if someone does a positive test for the coronavirus, so there is a need to leave the beds unoccupied to treat the circumstances that present themselves, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services Xavier Becerra told reporters last week.
“Take a shot that tries to fully maximize your space,” Becerra said when asked about the unoccupied bunk beds after visiting a shelter that houses 800 children at the Fort Bliss Army base near El Paso , in Texas and which has been plagued by complaints.
Providers agree that family care is more complicated for placements because age and gender should be taken into account, especially in cases where migrant children may share rooms with children in the family, such as and in the Umphlett home, which only accepts girls 12 and younger.
And the pandemic has limited things even more. Many families did not want to take a child directly from the border for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus.
Other families were not equipped to accommodate anyone while working at home with children doing virtual learning, such as the Umphlett, who did not take anyone until March of this year.
But providers, such as the Lutheran Service for Immigration and Refugees, are seeing a huge increase in families interested in fostering migrant children, giving them an opportunity that should be seized, said its director, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah .
“I truly believe that if we invest and focus on building this network of future foster parents, these homes can and should be the medium to long-term solution, so we should not rely on influence in the future,” he said. he said. he said.