The majority of URMs enter the program between ages 15 and 17. They must enter the program prior to their 18th birthday in order to be eligible for our program. As with all children in Massachusetts foster care, once URM youth turn 18, they are able to sign a voluntary placement agreement and remain in care until age 22. It is rare for youth in our program to be younger than 13.
Our program serves unaccompanied children who have typically embarked on the journey to the United States without a parent or guardian to care for them. Generally, unaccompanied minors who make the dangerous journey across the border alone are adolescents seeking safety and resources.
The goal for all children intercepted at the border is reunification with family, so long as that is in the best interests of the child. Of all children intercepted at the border, most are either repatriated back to their home country or are reunified with family here in the U.S. A very small percentage of youth are determined to be eligible for a URM program like ours. Our program serves this unique group of youth for whom it is determined that foster care is the best option.
On average, foster care placements in our program last between 2 and 3 years. With support from the program and their foster families, our goal is for URM youth to reach independence. Often youth that have finished high school are ready to move out of their foster homes into college settings or their own apartment. Many of our youth develop lifelong connections with their foster families and stay in touch for years to come, returning to the foster home for frequent visits.
Adding a new family member to your home will be life changing for each individual in your home. When a new child comes into your home, many aspects of your daily routine will change; from the foods you cook to who uses the bathroom first. You need to be willing to make changes in your home in order to meet the needs of the new child.
Yes! Many of our current foster parents have young biological children in the home, and have successfully added an unaccompanied teen into their family. These foster youth have experienced significant trauma, and it can be common for them to experience depression or anxiety. This looks different for each youth, but it may mean, for example, that they need encouragement to socialize and try new things. Your Ascentria social worker will help to support that everyone feels safe and comfortable.
Unlike traditional foster children, refugee minors are generally not eligible for adoption. However, recent policy changes from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and The Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) now permits adoption of children in the URMP, under very specific circumstances.
If there is an opportunity for a URM to reunify with family, our program pursues that option within the best interests of the child.
URMs speak a variety of different languages. Many of our youth from Eritrea speak Tigrinya, while youth from the Democratic Republic of the Congo could speak Swahili or French. Many of our youth from Central America speak Spanish, but it is also common for these youth to speak an indigenous language from their community, such as Quiche from Guatemala. All of the URM youth are learning English at different levels, and foster families must be creative in communicating with URMs when they first arrive.