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Helping unaccompanied children seeking safety

By March 24, 2021No Comments

Since about 2003, the United States has been faced with an influx of 400,000 migrant children crossing the Mexican border without their parents to escape persecution, gang violence, crime, abuse, neglect, and poverty. The children come from Central America, particularly Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, as well as Mexico.

As of March 21, reports suggest that there are more than 15,500 unaccompanied children in custody at the border, straining systems and creating a humanitarian crisis. Children may once again make asylum claims at the border.

Most children who make a border crossing already have a family member in the United States. Children at the border go into custody in a detention facility. They are required by law to be transferred within 72 hours to a shelter or, if they are under the age of 12, a transitional foster care program. If a child has a sponsor in this country he or she may be released to that person (most often a family member), and some will be eligible to receive services.

Leaving politics to the politicians, Lutheran Services Carolinas has recognized the need to support these vulnerable children searching for safety. Since 2007, LSC has provided home study and post-release services to unaccompanied children within a 150-mile radius of Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington in North Carolina and Columbia in South Carolina.  These services include:

  • Case management to unaccompanied children both before and after release from Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters.
  • Home visits to determine what recommendation will be made for potential reunification.
  • Case management and home visit services to monitor safety and stability of the placement as well as to educate and connect family to needed services and community support.

Since 2018, LSC has also offered Safe Release Support, which provides fingerprinting background checks on potential guardians (relatives or friends) to ensure that children will be reunited into safe and secure homes. These services are currently based in Raleigh but LSC is looking into expanding these services to Columbia, SC, and Wilmington, NC.

Since 2017, LSC has been providing transitional foster care for unaccompanied children in the Columbia area. This program is currently able to serve 12 children, with a proposal in the works to expand capacity to 24. The goal is to provide safe and stable living environments for children as they wait for immigration hearings and more permanent living situations with sponsors, such as parents or other relatives. The ultimate goal is family reunification within 30-90 days, whether in the U.S. or in the child’s home country.

While in LSC’s program, children receive educational, therapeutic, and medical services, as well as legal support. They even go on field trips in the local community. Each afternoon children are picked up by their foster parents who take them home to a loving family environment.

LSC is receiving calls from concerned citizens who want to help these vulnerable children. Our greatest need in the Columbia area is for foster parents in the transitional foster care program. Christy Chavis (, 803-348-7416) will be happy to give you more information. Foster parents receive a daily stipend and clothing allowance for each child.

You may also donate money here to support the program or purchase items from the list below:

• New large suitcases or large duffel bags (for children to use when they travel to reunite with family)

• New pajamas, underwear and socks for their first night (general sizes 2t-12 youth)

• Gift cards to Walmart or Target (to get birthday treats, welcome gifts, and prizes for children)

• Michaels Gifts Cards for Arts and Craft supplies (our kids love arts and crafts but those supplies are expensive!)

  • Spanish childrens bibles and books
  • OR you can buy through our Amazon wish list here.

Donations can be sent to:

Lutheran Services Carolinas, TFC Program, 118 Union St., Columbia, SC 29201

Amy Estridge

Author Amy Estridge

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