Providing Aid to Children Released to North Carolina from Immigrant Detention

Comprehensive model of social services and legal assistance to meet the physical and mental health needs of unaccompanied immigrant children

From 2006 to 2009, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Arlington, Va., developed a pilot project to provide aid to children who are released from immigrant detention in North Carolina—which has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country.

Case managers helped children enroll in school, sign up for English classes and meet with counselors if they had experienced trauma—such as rape or sexual abuse—or needed to talk about other issues in their lives. Project staff educated pro bono lawyers about the needs of undocumented children and the services available to them.

The Problem: Each year, about 50,000 children leave their native countries alone and enter the United States either legally or illegally. Some leave because their parents are too poor to take care of them, others come to join parents already in the United States either legally or illegally, whereas still others seek to escape from violent gangs or abuse.

In 2006 a total of 7,350 children were caught by border police and sent to detention facilities; some 4,700 of these children were released into their local communities in the care of a family member, distant relative or someone else who agreed to house them.

Key Results

  • In North Carolina, case managers provided services to 90 children released from detention.
  • Project staff educated pro bono lawyers and USCRI staff and interns about the needs of undocumented children and the services available to them. In turn, those lawyers, staff and interns provided information about services to about 900 children around the country. The trainees learned not only to be alert to young clients who might be suffering from trauma or physical problems, but also how to ask questions that might help the children reveal these problems.
  • In one-on-one meetings and group presentations, project staff educated local foundations; nonprofit organizations; and service providers such as the Department of Social Services, health providers, communities and nonprofit organizations in North Carolina about the needs of undocumented immigrant children.
  • Project staff responded to requests from congressional staff for more information about the needs of undocumented immigrant children and about the work that they were doing to provide case management.