Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) has provided safe and loving placements for unaccompanied children through our Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Foster Care program for nearly 50 years and have since expanded to offer Transitional (or short term) Foster Care for unaccompanied children.
Transitional foster care (TFC) provides short-term foster placements for unaccompanied children who don’t yet have an immigration status while our case management team identifies safe and suitable long-term placements through parents, relatives, or family friends in the U.S. Foster care for unaccompanied refugee youth places refugee youth or those with other qualifying immigration status who have no viable family reunification options into long-term foster homes. In fiscal year 2022, 128,904 unaccompanied children were referred by the Department of Homeland Security to the Office of Refugee Resettlement for placement into its continuum of care.
Separation from family, coupled with having witnessed war, conflict, the loss of loved ones and community, and taking dangerous journeys alone to seek safety and protection are traumatic events that impact a child’s well-being. The migration journey is often tinged with violence, sexual assault, lack of food, and potentially detainment. Unaccompanied youth have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to U.S.-born children.
One way of combating and stemming the lasting impact of these experiences is by providing a safe and healthy home. For many of the children and youth LSSNCA serves, living with a loving, stable family is the most effective way to help them heal and thrive. We appreciate the investment and work families put into welcoming and supporting each child. None of this would be possible without you. A shared experience among foster families is, while there can be difficult days, the journey is incredibly rewarding and teaches new life lessons to parents as much as the youth.
Below, we’d like to share with you some lessons learned and experiences from one particular foster care family. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, join our Joys of Foster Parenthood Lunch and Learn on May 25 with a former LSSNCA foster care parent, or email email@example.com.
Building a New Home
Yusuf, who is from Somalia, was 19 when he joined the Larson* family. Matt and Bridgette had taken some time deciding if they wanted to be foster parents and started attending training classes to learn more. During one class, they were asked to put themselves in the mindset of an unaccompanied refugee youth by writing down the five or six things that were most important to them. Then, one by one, they had to decide which they were willing to give up. This struck them, and they decided then and there they were ready to welcome whoever came to their door.
Yusuf was understandably uncomfortable when he first arrived at Matt and Bridgette’s home. Matt recalled, “it’s really hard for anyone his age to not make decisions in his own life.” A judge had ordered the move to this new foster home after Yusuf had been largely ignored at his first foster placement. Bridgette and Matt respected that he wanted to maintain his independence, and only required he join their family at dinnertime. They expressed their support and understanding by just being present and spending time with him, even if that meant in silence. Slowly, Yusuf started enjoying the homecooked meals and looked forward to conversation around the table.
Though, it isn’t always easy. “I know that when he says he wants to go back to Somalia, it means he’s unhappy. And I take those feelings seriously, and I’ll talk to him about those feelings.” Matt said. Intent on making sure Yusuf felt safe and comfortable, Matt realized that when it was just the two of them alone in the car, Yusuf opened up a lot more. Enter a number of car trips including college and extended family reunions out of state. The pair also went to Boston to visit Yusuf’s cousin – his only family in the United States. The three spent the day together, talking, drinking tea, exploring the city, and eating at a Somali restaurant.
Reconciling the Past and Future
Although Yusuf was slowly becoming more open and communicative, it’s hard to adjust to a new country, language, and entire life, when there are so many unanswered questions that led you there. One thing was always on Yusuf’s mind – his family in Somalia. For months, Yusuf didn’t know if his mother was even still alive. One day, Yusuf was finally able to get in touch with her! It was a moving call for everyone, and Matt shared – with Yusuf translating – that he was “a good kid and … a blessing to us.”
Yusuf also faced the same challenges that impacted the mental health and well-being of kids across the country – COVID-19. A senior in high school when the pandemic struck, Yusuf took to online learning and even had a virtual graduation ceremony. With other graduates, Yusuf donned his cap and gown, and drove around the neighborhood waving at neighbors who stood outside cheering them on.
Always a self-starter who enjoys learning and taking his time, Yusuf started English classes online at Montgomery College, and hopes to find an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, and in the meantime sought part-time work in order to send money back home.
Thanks to the love, support, and patience shared in his foster home, Yusuf is on a path to fulfilling his dreams coupled with newfound confidence.