USA (MNN) – Families separated at the United States’ southern border have started reuniting though thousands still wait to be reunited.
“The forced separation of refugee children from asylum-seeking families is a gaping wound in our country and this wound cannot even begin to heal until every child is reunited with their families,” Bethany Christian Services’ Chris Palusky says.
“Bethany will not rest until every child is reunited with his family.”
Pew Research Center reported there were almost 203,000 people detained along the United States and Mexico border from January to June of this year. Last year, there were around 104,000 people detained between January to June. This includes family members, unaccompanied minors, and individuals.
Pew Research Center further reports that after the “zero tolerance” policy was announced, 2,342 children were separated between May 5 and June 9 of this year. NBC News reports the Department of Homeland Security says more than 4,100 children have been separated altogether since October 2016.
Rapid Family Reunification
Organizations like Bethany are working to reunite families that have been split apart.
“We want to see these children reunited as quickly as possible,” Palusky says. “They should never have been separated from their families.”
Bethany is making efforts to reunite children with their parents or family members by calling detention centers, working with the Department of Homeland Security, and working out a reunification plan with parents.
“We would like to see the enabling of rapid reunification by families and that’s by linking children and families’ claims in court,” Palusky says.
“Right now, you have DHS – Department of Homeland Security – you have HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), they’re handling different sides of the case. So, with DHS, they’re handling the parents. HHS is handling children. They’re not always linked. This can just increase delays in people being able to have their day in court.”
Palusky says for asylum cases, it can take up to three years for a case to be heard. During that time, Bethany believes families and children should not be kept in jails or detained.
Similarly, they believe children who have been forcibly separated and unaccompanied children should be in a family setting rather than being detained in tent cities, military bases, or big box stores with hundreds of other children.
They see this through by providing foster care.
Transitional Foster Care
“Bethany has provided refugee foster care to unaccompanied children since 1975. Since 1980, we have served unaccompanied children. Since 2013, we have had a transitional foster care program whose primary goal is family reunification,” Bethany’s Dona Abbott says.
Their program applies to unaccompanied children and children forcibly separated from their parents.
Bethany believes children should be allowed to live in a safe foster home while they work to reunite families who have been detained and separated, find unaccompanied minors’ parents who are still in their home country or find a relative in the United States to reunite them with.
For separated children, Bethany will contact families in detention centers.
Sometimes parents will ask that children be with them as they’re detained. Other times, they’ll request children to stay with a family member in the country or with a foster family.
For unaccompanied children, Bethany will locate and contact their family to see how they would like to proceed.
“Some families feel it is safe and they are able to provide safety for their children if their child joins them in their country of origin, sometimes not,” Abbott says.
“They ask that their child apply for asylum in the U.S., maybe join a family member. It’s very unique depending on the family’s situation and again, that’s why it’s so important to listen to families about how they want to take care of, protect, care for their children.”
If parents request that children stay with family in the United States, Bethany will do background checks and fingerprint on the entire household to ensure a safe place for the child.
“We have helped over five thousand families in the reunification process and of those five thousand families, five hundred of those children were children that were in Bethany’s transitional foster care program,” Abbott says.
On Tuesday, July 10, Bethany was able to reunite all the children under the age of five who were forcibly separated from their families in their program.
Seven children in Michigan and Maryland were successfully reunited. And, one hundred unaccompanied minors are staying in foster homes as Bethany goes through the process of reunification.
“This just confirms the commitment Bethany has to reunite families and keep families together,” Abbott says.
Yet reunification is just one step. The issue goes deeper.
Many of these children have had to flee their homes due to gang-related violence and other conflicts, they’ve gone through Mexico where many people have been robbed or raped, and they’ve been separated from their parents.
They’ve gone through a number of traumatizing events and don’t know how to cope with it.
Bethany gives children mental health care support while they’re in foster care and even after they’ve been reunited with their family.
“While the children have been in care, we’ve had staff who have trauma-informed services to the children and to the foster parents through clinical and case management services as well as educational support,” Abbott says.
“When the children are reunified, those that get post-reunification services will get assistance in helping the family identify local providers of those services as well as meeting any special education needs the child has or any additional needs the family may need in the community.”
Bethany’s priorities are rapid family reunification, alternatives to jail and detention centers, and community-based care.
Pray for the Lord’s guidance and provision as they help in reuniting families and giving children temporary foster homes. And, pray for healing for children who have been traumatized while fleeing their homes and being separated from their parents.
You can be a foster family to a child here.