Social Work Month celebrates the importance and impact of social work.
Social services are an integral part of KIND’s holistic model of protecting the rights and well-being of unaccompanied children. We have worked hard over the years to substantially expand client’s access to this vital support to help them adjust to a new country, language, home, and community, and address the traumas that most of them have experienced before and during their journey to the United States.
“KIND recognizes that the mission is the successful advancement of the child’s legal case, but we also know that youth aren’t just defined by their undocumented status,” said Sierra Molton, KIND’s Regional Director for Social Services for our West Coast and border offices. “Our children clients have so much going on in their lives. They have challenges, dreams, strengths, and needs. Our role is to step in right where they’re at and meet them at that place and support those basic needs and further their goals. We aim to create therapeutic opportunities and environments for the children to heal and grow.”
KIND’s social services program began in 2015 with two staff members. Today, the program has grown to become a comprehensive program with 54 staff members in 15 offices across the United States, with team members working with children throughout the United States and Mexico. We have provided more than 5,400 unaccompanied and separated children with access to psychosocial services, including socioemotional support, medical and mental healthcare services, educational opportunities, and crisis intervention to ensure their well-being and safety. KIND’s Senior Director of Social Services Wendy Miron explained, “We know that having a positive experience with a caring adult is one of the biggest buffers to mitigate trauma.” KIND’s Social Service Coordinators thus play a role not only in connecting children to services, but also being a caring adult in their lives.
Children often heal best in community and group interventions that provide a safe space and a positive outlet to express their feelings. Group therapeutic programming—which ranges from small workshops to larger events that are both fun and therapeutic, tailored to clients’ needs and ages—is a highlight of the work and includes activities such as back-to-school drives and art classes.
“Clients who participate in our groups can engage in peer support, learn positive coping techniques, and build self-esteem,” Molton said. “While they may be coming together to do an art project together or talk about a life skill, kids are also getting a therapeutic experience and tools by coming together with other youth who understand their journey and where they’ve been more than anybody else.”
In a recent art class for migrant children led by KIND’s Social Services Coordinator Mario Narcisco Avila Melgar at a shelter in Mexico, kids painted watercolors as Mario explained how art is a way to express oneself and encouraged kids to draw about where they come from, a happy memory, or a hope for the future. In another instance, a sad-looking 17-year-old boy entered a meeting space with our El Paso staff and was transformed minutes later when told he would be making paper flowers with a group of other kids.
“These little things matter,” Molton said. “Giving children a chance to express themselves, a chance to be a child, a chance to get in touch with who they are and their culture and their emotions is just so important in the midst of this really intense point in their journey.”
KIND will continue to share our social services expertise through technical assistance, capacity building, and training with schools, lawyers, other nongovernmental organizations, community partners, and in government programs in California and New Jersey. “We have such an exciting platform and [there is so much opportunity to] work more collaboratively across all the different stakeholders who intersect with migrant children,” Miron remarked.
Miron and Molton both expressed great admiration of their colleagues. Molton said, “Our team is full of passionate, caring, empathetic, gifted social workers and former therapists and activists. Everyone comes to this with an empathetic lens and a deep understanding of trauma-informed care, and they infuse that in everything that they do. I feel very proud to be a part of that.”
Miron agreed. “A special thing about KIND,” she said, “is that everybody is so committed to the work, everybody brings their expertise [and] passion, their commitment to social justice and also their collaborative spirit to working together and really supporting each other.”