The nationwide Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program was developed in the 1980s by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to initially address the needs of thousands of children in Southeast Asia without a parent or guardian to care for them. Today the program serves some of the most vulnerable minors in the world – those fleeing persecution, violence, or abuse, who enter the United States alone.
A URM is a child who enters the United States prior to their 18th birthday without a parent or guardian to care for them. Catholic Charities URM program in Jackson is one of 25 in the United States and works with young people to provide necessary care and services.
Since 1980, Catholic Charities of Jackson, has provided specialized foster care to refugee children from Vietnam, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Haiti, Burma, Eritrea, the Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Central America. The program assists youth in developing appropriate skills to enter adulthood and to achieve economic and social self-sufficiency.
Initially, these children were separated from their parents due to the outbreak of war or political upheaval in their countries. Their earliest childhood memories are of death, destruction, separation, and survival. Often, they witness the burning of their homes and villages and the massacre of their families and friends. Some children flee without knowing who among their families has died or survived. At an age when most children are learning their ABC’s, these children were running for their lives.
Along the journey young children endure hunger, thirst, military assaults, and animal attacks to reach refugee camps. They learn to survive on their own and as a group. Refugee camps are able to provide the children with food, shelter, and relative safety to ease their physical suffering but can do little to heal their nightmarish memories or fears over the fate of their loved ones.
Depending on individual needs, the children are placed in therapeutic foster homes, group care, or independent living. Catholic Charities has two group homes in Jackson which can accommodate eight young men each and young women in the program are placed with foster families. The foster parents receive specialized training to help meet the needs of these young people. The primary focus of the program has always been to work toward reuniting these children with relatives whenever possible.
The URM program also offers assistance in obtaining U.S. residency, court documentation for immigration issues, translation services, English as a second language help, cultural orientation including grooming and hygiene instruction, case management, therapeutic services, tutors, socialization and recreational outlets. Case workers and foster parents help the youth celebrate cultural holidays from their homelands and offer them the chance to learn about American holidays and culture. The success stories abound and Catholic Charities currently has 27 young people in the program.
Catholic Charities URM program relies on engagement from a wide range of community members including foster parents, mentors, former URM minors, volunteers, leaders of faith communities, ethnic community leaders, teachers, coaches, business owners and many others. Therapeutic foster care parents are always welcome and to learn more about the foster parent program, please call Evelyn Morris at 601-981-4668 ext. 702.