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The IRC in Miami: Unaccompanied children in South Florida.

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The IRC opened its locally-funded office in Miami in 1960 in response to the Cuban Revolution and, over the decades, has served over 25,000 refugees, asylees, survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable populations in South Florida. Due to nationally reduced refugee admissions, the IRC ended its refugee resettlement program in Miami in 2018. Although its resettlement program concluded in 2018, the IRC in Miami continues to serve the community by providing holistic, trauma-informed services to survivors of human trafficking and unaccompanied children and their families.  

Since 2014, the IRC in Miami has collaborated with Heartland Alliance in the provision of post-release services and home studies for over 350 Unaccompanied Children (UC). Unaccompanied Children are children who enter the United States without a parent or legal guardian and then enter the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an office of the Administration of Children and Families. Many leave their home countries to be reunified with family, while others leave to escape violence and persecution.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement reports that since 2014, a total of 25,188 unaccompanied children (UC) have been reunited with their sponsors in Florida.  

Two primary components of the IRC’s UC program are home studies and post-release services. As part of the home study process and prior to reunification, IRC staff interview the minor and his/her potential sponsor, visit the home to assess any safety concerns, complete a thorough report with recommendations, and identify action steps to address any ongoing concerns. In the post-release services, IRC staff conduct home visits and provide psychoeducational support to ensure stable reunification between the sponsors and the UC. Sponsors are often but not always relatives of the UC. At times, friends of children’s family might act as temporary sponsors.  

Unaccompanied Children have no lawful immigration status, and therefore do not have many of the legal protections and rights that allow other immigrant groups to quickly assimilate and thrive in their new homes. Despite such challenges, many UC seek to improve their lives by integrating in their new environments and attending school. Although UC continuously demonstrate their resiliency, the unique obstacles shared by these children present complex problems to organizations that provide assistance to these immigrant youth.   

The IRC in Miami supports UC and their recently reunified families by identifying needs and providing appropriate referrals to community resources. Some common needs include accessing affordable medical providers, legal services, and educational programs, specifically English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Recently, the IRC in Miami created support groups for clients ages 15 and up. These groups assist in areas such as the promotion of mental health care and self-care, healthy peer relationships, and navigating issues related to immigration, education, and public health.   

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Florida and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, JC Torres, at Juan.Torres [at] Rescue.org or 786-325-6257.

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