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Tag: Migrant Children

Family Reunification Program Overview

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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.

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.

Our program 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 under federal policy guidelines.

As the world now knows, children apprehended at the southern border or in the course of an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid are placed into federal detention. Those who are able to reunify with family in New England are often referred to IINE and are released into the care of a sponsor, usually a family member, while their legal status in the U.S.  is clarified. In addition to certifying the safety and suitability of the U.S. sponsor’s home, IINE provides support to children and teens during this transition period by offering critical legal aid and linking the children and their sponsors to community resources.

IINE’s skilled case managers advocate for each child as they navigate federal reunification guidelines, and are responsible for visiting the child in his/her new home in the U.S.  IINE staff provide the reunited family with referrals to attorneys, schools, libraries, museums, health facilities, food banks, crisis hotlines, and other resources tailored both to the family’s local community and any needs or interests that may have been identified.  Depending on the individual situation, a case manager may also help develop a stress management plan with the child, work out a family safety plan with both the child and the sponsor, and discuss family support strategies with the sponsor.

Children often travel 2,500 miles from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras to the U.S. border because of  violence, deprivation, and abuse they encounter in their home country.  IINE works with children ages 2-18 to build a new life in America that allows for safety, resources and a more peaceful future.

 Key facts about how our locally-based program helps reunite separated families from Central America.

  1. IINE provides a local response to the ongoing and escalating family separation crisis at the border.
  2. Separation of families at the border is a new and controversial federal tactic; for years the U.S. has funded providers such as IINE to support professional services for displaced and reunifying children in need of international protection.
  3. IINE services are limited only by funding. Federal funds do not fully cover even two IINE social workers who provide critical child and family focused support. We are in need of additional and sustainable private funding to join a recent gift from the Cabot Foundation to support our growing family and minor caseloads.
  4. IINE works with Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) families with children ages 2-18 who have migrated to the U.S. fleeing life-threatening experiences of violence, deprivation and abuse perpetrated mainly by organized armed criminal actors.
  5. IINE is an independent non-profit organization that provides the best of U.S. federally funded programming for family support and reunification support services.
  6. Many children crossing into the U.S. are already separated from their parents and are fleeing their native countries unaccompanied. IINE provides professional placement assessment to ensure safe reunification and follow up case management services delivered by licensed social workers who support children reunifying with caregivers.
  7. IINE’s professional family reunification services includes home safety assessment and the post-release services of safety planning, connection to health care, connection to therapy and trauma resources, enrollment in school and referral to family support resources.

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Meet Sofie

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A graduate of Boston College (BA) and UMass Boston (MA), Sofie Suter works in IINE’s Boston office as the Program Officer for the Central American Unaccompanied Children’s Program. Her job and department are unique because her clients are children, with whom she works for short, intensive period of time while they are first reunifying with their family members in the U.S.

“The most important part of my job is to make sure that when a child comes here, he or she is safe and understands his or her rights,” she said. “I work for the child.”

The reunification process for unaccompanied minors  is extremely complicated for families and staff because no two reunions are ever the same. IINE’s program has expanded significantly since it was first launched in 2011, and now reunifies 175 families each year.

Sofie and her colleagues, handle 60 cases at any one time and travel throughout the east coast of the U.S. on home inspections, post-reunification follow up, and other duties designed to ensure that children rejoining their families have a smooth transition to their new life.

In 2018, Sofie was recognized by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) for her work with one child who struggled after he arrived in Boston to live with a relative. The teenager needed specialized mental health and gender identity resources, and Sofie met his needs with a nuanced, holistic, and culturally sensitive approach.

She was commended for her work on that case by the USCRI’s Associate Director for Children’s Services who wrote: “Her ability to form deep, trusting relationships with her clients and their families is truly remarkable.” For her outstanding service in this case, Sofie was awarded USCRI’s first national “Case Manager of the Month” honor in August, 2017.

But her work isn’t the only unique thing about Sofie.

In an office filled with people from all over the world, she stands out as one of the more well-traveled members of IINE’s team. She was born in Switzerland and moved to New Hampshire when she was 10 years old. She has lived in Ghana, Mexico, India, and France. She’s been to five of the seven continents (South America is next!), and she speaks four languages. While her background may not be anyone’s idea of a traditional New Hampshire upbringing, she insists it is all those experiences that inform her holistic approach to social work and social justice.

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