By Kaila Thomas, IINE intern
Since 2011, the International Institute of New England has helped unaccompanied minor children by providing the support and resources they need to reunify with loved ones in the United States.
Sometimes migrant families travel to the U.S. border together, but very often children travel alone and cross the U.S. border in search of safety and reunification with a family member in the U.S.
While most of the individuals and families served by IINE live within the greater Boston, Lowell, and Manchester areas, one of IINE’s signature programs stretches beyond those cities. The Unaccompanied Children’s Program, or Family Reunification program, encompasses all six New England states, New York and New Jersey as IINE staff work to reunite unaccompanied children with their family members living across the northeast.
Sofie Suter leads the program, which delivers essential services to children and teenagers who are referred to us by immigration authorities after they have been detained and sheltered by the U.S. government. INE’s bi-lingual, licensed case managers advocate for each child as they navigate federal reunification guidelines.
The goals of this specialized program are to foster a safe environment for each child, and to provide individualized support to the children after the traumatic experiences endured on their journey to the United States. There are two parts to the work Sofie and her team do: home studies, which consist of assuring the future New England home for each child is safe by assessing the home and family life the child will be entering into, and Post Release Services (PRS) that give the child support after joining a new community.
The total reunification process takes two to three weeks from start to finish, although the team extends services if circumstances warrant more support. There is always a follow up visit with the family after the initial reunification to make sure the children are safe and happy in their new homes.
Each case manager typically helps 30 children at a time, and the entire program at IINE serves 200 families each year. The IINE team said one of the most rewarding parts of their job is seeing the world of possibilities open up to the children.
“They are excited to move forward,” Sofie said.