Collaboration — how social service agencies and non-profits can do it more effectively — was the prevailing theme Thursday at a U.S. Immigration Services (USIS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hosted training seminar aimed at helping to better protect endangered immigrant children.
Georgia Division of Family Services employees, immigrant children advocates, social workers, community volunteers and others who work with immigrant children, came together for the three-hour session held at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services offices near Northlake Mall. Organizers say the objective was to bring together representatives from local, state and federal agencies, along with non-profit organizations, to provide information and technical assistance. The goal was to inform staffers how to identify and assist abused documented and undocumented immigrant children who are victimized, neglected or abandoned.
“It was an idea that was brought to us by DFACS (Department of Children And Family Services),” explains USIS District Director Denise Frazier. “It’s not about streamlining the process, it’s about bringing us all together on behalf of immigrant children. We’re trying to provide everyone with information about the options available for immigrant children.”
Presenters shared with the crowd of more than 100, detailed information about a wide range of issues affecting this embattled population — from the perils of assisting human trafficking victims to the specific application forms that must be completed on behalf of children needing special humanitarian visas.
Presenter Eileen Matuszak of the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services was careful to balance the technical information provided with emotional anecdotes.
“These kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” says Matuszak. “I’ve had many of them just cry right in front of me. They owe a lot of money [to whomever helped them immigrate to the U.S.] and then their mom is back in their home country sick. They need to work immediately to make money to send back home for medication.”
Many attendees say the session opens the door for more coalition building in the future.
“We chose to participate because we represent children who are the clients of these agencies; they’re abused and neglected,” says Roberta Cooper, child attorney supervisor with the Fulton County’s Child Advocates Office. “State resources are limited to help these children, so we’ve come to learn what federal resources are available for us to collaborate.”
Presenter Asma Kighta agreed that the training session was successful and met its objectives.
“I think it’s important for not only the state and local agencies to know what’s available on a federal level, but to know what is available [for these children] from non-profit agencies as well,” says Kighta, a policy analyst with DHS. “I think a lot of agencies don’t know what’s available out there, so a lot of resources for these children go untapped. Programs like these help prevent that from happening.”
For more information about future USIS training sessions, email Joseph.Kernan@DHS.gov or call 770-508-1862.
JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Atlanta Magazine and Fox 5 News in Atlanta. The former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.