May is National Foster Care Month, and we at Lutheran Community Services Northwest want to give a special shout-out to all our foster parents who have stepped up to welcome refugee youth into their homes.
Three years ago, our Child Welfare team launched its Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) resettlement program – making Spokane home to one of only 31 such programs in the country. Since then, we’ve placed 29 youths from around the world into foster homes here in our community. In order to be resettled as unaccompanied refugee minors, these youths must be under the age of 18, meet the legal definition of a refugee, and have no adult guardian who is responsible for their care.
So who are these refugee minors and where are they coming from?
Half of the youths in our program arrive from overseas through the U.N. refugee resettlement process. Many of them have lost parents to violence, genocide and disease. Others have been separated from their families somewhere along the journey to safety, leaving them wrestling with the painful question of where their loved ones are or if they’re even still alive. Regardless of their circumstances, these youths all find themselves alone and responsible for their own survival at a very young age, sometimes living on their own in refugee camps for years before finally being approved for resettlement with a foster family here in the US.
The other half of our youths have fled trafficking and gang violence in Central America – often traveling for weeks or months by foot or on top of trains to come seek safety in the United States. Like those from other parts of the world, these Central American youths have endured immense trauma, both in their home countries and on their journey north. Upon arriving in the U.S., they enter into legal proceedings to determine whether or not they will be allowed to stay. Once their claims for protection are approved by the courts, these youths become eligible for resettlement through a program like ours.
Thankfully, we have families here in Spokane who are ready and willing to receive refugee youths into their homes with open arms. These families come from all ages and walks of life, but they share one thing in common: their dedication to serving our youth and giving them a chance to find safety and stability here in Spokane. When asked why they chose to take in a refugee minor, one foster family said, “We saw a need in the global community and stepped into it.” Another parent replied, “Helping refugees is something I want to do. Having a foster refugee daughter has given me a chance to learn about her culture and share in her life. How blessed I am!”
Many of our foster families would agree that they have been deeply blessed through their experience of getting to know and learn from the youths in their home. At the same time, we at Lutheran Community Services know that foster parenting has its share of both joys and challenges, and we are so deeply grateful for our foster parents who choose to give so much of themselves every day as they seek to love and walk alongside our youth, even when it’s difficult. To all our foster parents, thank you! We are amazed by your tenacity, your compassion, and your commitment to the youths that we serve. We see and deeply appreciate the work that you do, not just in May, but all year long. Thank you!
Interested in learning more about fostering a refugee youth? Join us at one of our Information Nights, held on the second Tuesday of every month from 5:30-7:30pm at our office (210 West Sprague Ave., Spokane, WA 99201). For more information, contact Theirhope@lcsnw.org or call (509) 747-8224.
Anna Waltar, program assistant, Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, Lutheran Community Services Northwest
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