Before COVID-19 changed our daily lives, Lauren Villagran of the El Paso Times had the opportunity to tour a Southwest Key shelter in El Paso and share her observations. Read Lauren’s article here to hear about her experiences and her interviews with Southwest Key Case Manager and youth in multiple El Paso area shelters.
We’re thankful for Lauren’s spotlight on the unification process for unaccompanied minors and we thought we’d take a moment to share a few important keys to our philosophy of care that are present from the moment youth enter our shelter to the day they are unified and leave the shelter. Read on to learn three important keys to care in our unaccompanied minor shelters.
Key #1: Safety
Southwest Key shelters prioritize the safety, protection and dignity of the minors in the shelters. The majority of those in our care are 13-17 year-old boys and girls, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The vast majority of these young men and women have come to the U.S. on their own (unaccompanied) to escape poverty, violence or danger in their countries. The identities of shelter residents are private and protected from the general public, as a safety precaution.
Key #2: Going above and beyond compliance
Southwest Key operates state-licensed shelters where immigrant minors are required by federal law to be cared for in the least restrictive setting possible while case managers work to unify youth with family or sponsors in the U.S. While we are careful to ensure our shelters are compliant for licensing, we also feel that they should be treated with care that goes beyond simple compliance.
Every boy and girl sleeps in his or her own bed in a dormitory-style setting and is provided new clothing, shoes and toiletries. All youth also have access to pro-bono legal counsel, during and after their stay at all Southwest Key shelters. There are no law enforcement personnel in our shelters.
Youth in our care are able to learn English, make friends, play outside, eat healthy meals, talk regularly with loved ones on the phone and prepare for a new life in the U.S. Our staff are trained as childcare providers, committed to sharing respect and compassion and instilling optimism and courage in each child we serve.
Key #3: Shelters as a temporary home
Our goal is to unify unaccompanied minors with loved ones or sponsors as swiftly as possible while abiding by strict federal requirements required to ensure their safety.
During their stay, each youth receives a medical exam by a licensed primary care provider within 48 hours of arrival. Southwest Key medical staff provide basic medical care 24 hours a day. Any youth that requires examinations by specialists or hospital care are transported by Southwest Key to appropriate medical facilities.
While we do our best to create a welcoming space for unaccompanied minors, we know that the best environment for them is with their families.
Southwest Key aims to place youth with their parents or guardians as quickly as possible. Sometimes it can take a while, depending on how easy it is to find sponsors, how long it takes to run background checks for those sponsors and how equipped the sponsors are to care for youth. The case managers work closely with the consulate to expedite this process.