Each year, thousands of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children flee violence and other life-threatening circumstances, making an often-perilous journey to the U.S. with the hopes of finding a safer, more secure future. Once in government custody, these children must navigate an immigration system that does not have to consider their safety or best interests when deciding whether they’ll be sent back to the country they left.
The Child Advocate Program was founded in 2004 by the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights to protect and advance the rights of children who arrive in the U.S. on their own. It is the only program in the nation that provides independent Child Advocates to support unaccompanied and separated immigrant children involved in deportation proceedings.
The Young Center is a national human rights organization founded in Chicago, Illinois, with eight regional offices serving 18 states. Their specially trained, bilingual/bicultural Child Advocates work with Young Center staff attorneys and social workers to understand each child’s unique story and develop an appropriate advocacy plan. They accompany children to immigration court and advocate for their rights, wishes and best interests in every decision made about their lives. They also work alongside Young Center staff to determine what legal, medical, mental health, educational and social services the child may need to support them.
“With the number of unaccompanied children in immigration custody increasing, the need for legal and social services to protect their rights and well-being is even more urgent,” said Marisa Chumil, Co-Director of the Child Advocate Program.
“Our advocacy for youth at risk of entering adult detention centers depends upon the strong partnerships we’ve built with organizations such as the Bethany House of Hospitality and the Viator House of Hospitality, which provide safe housing to youth close to turning 18 years old. Our Child Advocate Program ensures that immigrant children seeking protection and safety in the U.S. receive the essential advocacy services they need to heal and thrive.”