Unaccompanied Children Support: Harnessing Expertise and Inspiring Change

May 18, 2023

In March, KIND and the American Bar Association hosted a national training for those who serve unaccompanied children – the first in-person gathering of its kind in more than three years. In the intervening years, providers faced numerous challenges, including: a global pandemic, multitudes of changing laws and policies — many of which weakened protections for unaccompanied children—unprecedented numbers of children arriving in the United States, and the inability to connect with clients in person.

The conference provided a vital space for learning, support, and re-connection after three difficult years and helped foster an even stronger community of those striving to provide the best possible assistance and care to unaccompanied children.

Passionate and dedicated practitioners from a variety of fields shared their best practices and strategies over 24 training sessions. Topics included: asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, trafficking, social service collaboration, and policy.

Social Services Supervisor Natalie Segovia from KIND’s Atlanta office participated in the conference and shared its impact on her work.

I was impacted by being surrounded by other professionals who understand the depth and importance of our work supporting unaccompanied children in the United States, and share a passion for the work, regardless of differences in roles, jurisdictions, or experience. Although the training only lasted a few days, being immersed in so much expertise, insight, and care left me inspired and challenged. All the sessions I attended felt relevant and important to the work and advocacy happening at KIND and across the country.

The work of KIND’s social services staff is grounded in a trauma-centered approach and multi-faceted, with four major components: direct client assistance; therapeutic programming; capacity building and technical assistance; and outreach and partnership.  During the training, three sessions especially resonated because they included topics pertaining to this work, including effective responses to self-harm, working with LGBTQIA+ individuals, and tips for engaging with tender-aged children and teenagers in challenging situations. The sessions inspired me to think about how our social services team could better present substantive information to our clients and more effectively facilitate discussion on important topics. This is particularly relevant to KIND’s work as we aim to provide therapeutic environments in which our clients are met by staff who offer safe and supportive spaces and services.

Throughout the training I reflected on how I could bring valuable information back to my colleagues at KIND, as well as inspiring and resourceful new approaches to our work. For example, during a session on working with LGBTQIA+ individuals, the presenter shared tools and resources, including the Identity Wheel and Gender Box, both of which can help our clients recognize and reflect on different identities and gender roles in society. I thought about how we could enhance our services by adding new resources such as these to our Therapeutic Toolkit and training.

Attending sessions led by experts, building connections, and enjoying the companionship of those who also care deeply about unaccompanied children instilled hope in me, as did the inclusion of individuals with lived experience as guest speakers. Javier Zamora, author of Solito: A Memoir especially impacted me. Zamora migrated to the United States from El Salvador on his own as a 9-year-old. Zamora shared raw honesty about his experience and emphasized the importance of mental health. As a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants and an advocate of mental health, I felt proud and encouraged.

Javier’s story is only one of so many, but for me such a personal reminder of why the work is important and who I do it for. After all, the work we do is for the betterment of those we serve. This training inspired me and will inspire my approach to the work both as I continue to provide direct client care, and in how I support the social services staff I supervise.