In recent months, a record number of children have crossed U.S. borders alone. In some cases, these children cross the border to escape violence, poverty and unsafe conditions in their homelands, braving a foreign country without a parent by their side.
Bethany Christian Services offers transitional care for these unaccompanied minors and helps them reunite with a parent, relative or sponsor already in the states.
The global nonprofit organization recently announced the expansion of its Transitional Foster Care program in Pennsylvania to include its Reading-area office in Mohnton. Other Bethany locations offering transitional foster care are the western Pennsylvania office in Wexford and the Philadelphia office in Jenkintown.
While Bethany Christian Services does not offer transitional foster care at its Lancaster office, foster parents in the northern part of Lancaster County may be eligible to house these unaccompanied children.
“The need for foster families is urgent, and families in Reading now have an opportunity to give these children a safe home that they crave and deserve,” says Mark Unger, Bethany Christian Services regional branch director.
He says the transitional program partners with local families to give unaccompanied children a loving and stable home until they are reunited with their families.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20,332 children were in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement as of May 31, 2021.
Nationally, CBS News has reported, an “unprecedented U.S. government effort” is underway to unite a record number of unaccompanied children with relatives living in the U.S.
Olga Wach, who directs the Reading transitional program, says children are arriving at the border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and other countries.
“Bethany works with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to get referrals for unaccompanied children who have someone in the states waiting for them. Often, the children themselves have contact information to their families in the U.S.,” Wach says.
Upon arrival at the border, the unaccompanied youth are housed in a holding center run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for up to 72 hours before being transferred to the care and custody of ORR.
Children are typically 12 or younger. However, sometimes there are teens up to age 17 who need foster care. The length of time in a foster care home is typically one to two months depending on the child and U.S. family’s needs.
During a child’s stay in a foster home, a case manager is assigned to work with the minor and their family member or sponsor already in the U.S. through the reunification process.
“It’s a team effort to assure the child gets the best care and includes clinical, medical and case management,” Wach says. Every precaution is taken, she says, to ensure the safety and security of a minor, including a screening of the family member or sponsor.
Adults interested in being foster parents should live within 20 to 25 minutes of the Reading office to be able to transport a child to the facility’s education center twice a week.
Being bilingual is not a prerequisite, as translators and interpreters are available to provide support 24/7.
Foster parents are required to be licensed and registered with the state Department of Human Services. A Bethany family recruiter provides training and support through the licensing process. Training includes the standardized SAFE home study, orientation, trauma training, crisis prevention and intervention, first aid/CPR and mandatory ORR instruction.
Foster parents receive a small stipend from Bethany, funded by ORR, for volunteering to be licensed foster parents.