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"A Responsibility to Heal" Unaccompanied Migrant Children


Photo: For illustrative purposes only.

Children coming from Central America across the U.S. border have been in the headlines in recent weeks. But the plight of undocumented and unaccompanied young immigrants is not news to Children’s Health Fund.

“The tragedy for the vast majority of these youth is that they have been exposed to violence and abuse, and have escaped to this country often as part of a survival strategy,” explains Dr. Alan Shapiro, a Children’s Health Fund Senior Medical Director in New York. “But once they’re in the U.S., their difficulties multiply.”

“Over the years, working out of our mobile clinics on the streets of New York, Dr. Shapiro has seen first-hand the struggles of homeless youth,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, president and co-founder of Children’s Health Fund.  “He realized that these kids face extremely complex challenges.  While they need quality health care, they also need support in many other areas of their lives.”

Dr. Shapiro’s experiences prompted him to form an innovative medical-legal partnership called Terra Firma, which is based at our acclaimed Center for Child Health and Resiliency in the South Bronx, affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Montefiore.

Tapping the health care resources of the clinic, Terra Firma gives undocumented kids the physical and emotional health services they need.  Working with the Unaccompanied Minors Legal Project at Catholic Charities of New York, Dr. Shapiro has augmented the health services to create a unique “one-stop shopping” model that provides medical and mental health care, social services and legal aid. The program also provides a trauma support group to help these young people develop coping skills and build support networks.

No matter where these children end up living after their cases are adjudicated, Dr. Shapiro notes, they’re here now – and they’re hurting now. They face deportation. They’re vulnerable and need our compassion and support. They may have health problems that worsen under the strain – or they may develop new health issues.

"As a society,” he says, “it is our responsibility to heal them, not to compound the trauma."

Read more about Terra Firma in USA Today.