Terra Firma

Terra Firma (CHF-supported in collaboration with Catholic Charities) is a medical-legal partnership clinic providing integrated medical, mental health and social services to unaccompanied immigrant children all under one roof. At the Center for Child Health and Resiliency, affiliated with The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, these children are given a medical home for the first time in their lives and have access to culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate mental health services. Working in close conjunction with on-site pro bono immigration lawyers, our clinicians provide professional testimonies used to support legal relief; preventing deportation and helping immigrant children gain lawful residency in the US.

Terra Firma’s Support Group, led by psychologist Cristina Muñiz de la Peña, provides a safe place for youth to discuss a range of topics including trauma, the journey to the US, life in a new city and being reunited with family members often not seen for over a decade or more. This trauma-focused group aims to decrease stress, aid in normalization and enhance acculturation. It also offers a venue for enrichment, social networking, and plain fun, as anyone who has witnessed group activity can attest to.

Terra Firma first focused on boys as they made up of 75% of unaccompanied children arriving to the US. But in 2014 a large influx of girls began arriving escaping rising exploitation and sexual violence directed against them in their home countries. Terra Firma has responded by expanding its program and tailoring services for them. A female pediatrician and a trauma-focused social worker were added to the team. This allowed for expanded medical capacity and the development of a support group to treat girls with complex trauma.

“The children we are working with are seeking safe haven in the US and fleeing violence and poverty,” notes Dr. Alan Shapiro, senior medical director of the Bronx Health Collective and co-founder of Terra Firma. “When they first arrive into our program they are often confused and scared. It is no surprise. They have been displaced from their families, friends, schools, and communities and now find themselves in one of the largest cities in the world. And the stories of abuse and trauma many have endured–physical, sexual and emotional, are truly unfathomable.”

“In response, we developed Terra Firma to help children to heal, gain a sense of normalcy and a chance to recapture their childhood,” Dr. Shapiro adds. “Our interventions were developed to respond to the trauma they have sustained and help them normalize their lives once again. I am happy to say we are seeing great results. As symptoms of trauma, depression, and anxiety dissolve, these incredibly resilient children are regaining control of their lives.”

Terra Firma is made possible by generous support from a variety of sources, including Children’s Health Fund, Catholic Charities, JM Kaplan Fund, NY Community Trust, Robin Hood, and van Ameringen Foundation.

“As a society we have a moral imperative to ensure the health and well-being of our children–all our children. This is what we at Terra Firma believe and hope to achieve. With generous support, we have been able to expand our program. We hope to grow this program further with each passing year,” Shapiro says.

For more on Terra Firma, see this profile in The Atlantic Monthly.