Jun 09, 2017
Q&A with Ana Jose, Recruitment Specialist, Refugee Foster Care, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Grand Rapids
*Bethany Christian Services has been providing refugee services since 1976. We have a particular need for foster families for refugee youth in Michigan and Pennsylvania.*
1. Who are the refugee youth Bethany is serving?
Most of the youth have come from Central America, Asia, Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. They are between 13–17 years old, although most are 15 or older. Many have lived in refugee camps abroad for many years.
Bethany receives 10–20 referrals a day from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for refugee youth who need foster homes. We don’t have enough refugee foster parents to accept all of these referrals. We are looking for foster parents who are willing to open their hearts and homes to give kids an opportunity for a better life.
2. How do the youth come to the United States without parents?
After fleeing their country of origin, the youth finds a refugee camp that can provide a small measure of safety. (NOTE: Conditions inside the camps are still dangerous.) Most of the youth coming from Ethiopia and Eritrea are coming from refugee camps. The most common scenarios are that the parents died in the camp or the parents left the child at the camp. The United National High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) evaluates each case, verifies the youth's identity—a process that takes several months to a few years—and determines where the youth will be resettled.
When unaccompanied minors from Central America arrive at the southern U.S. border, they stay in a holding center while UNHCR and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) looks for a family member to whom they can safely release the youth. If no family member is found, and it’s determined the youth can stay in the country, the youth is referred to LIRS or USCCB who then make a referral to agencies like Bethany to find a foster family that can provide a safe home.
Bethany currently has 200 refugee youth in our Grand Rapids, Michigan, program and 113 licensed foster families with refugee youth in their homes. We could easily place 75–100 more youth each year if we had more families.
3. What are some of the challenges these kids face even after they are in foster care?
Education. Schooling has been limited for many of these kids. They have lived in chaotic environments where educational opportunities were inconsistent, if available at all, and they often need extra help to catch up in school. We’re looking for foster parents who are willing to help and have access to schools that have educational services to help these kids get where they need to go.
Trauma. You can expect that most children in the domestic foster care system have experienced trauma, but our kids have experienced high levels of trauma. Some have seen their parents die right in front of them—gratefully, that is not something we typically see in the U.S. They need foster parents who will help them feel safe, loved, supported, and secure.
Continue to Part 2!
If you are in the West Michigan area, join us for a free information meeting. Remaining 2017 dates:
- July 10
- August 1
- September 11
- October 7
- November 7
- December 4
Call 616.224.7540 or email RefugeeFosterCare@bethany.org to register.