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We Can Do Better than Separating Children at our Borders

  • 6/5/2018 4:50:00 PM
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We Can Do Better than Separating Children at our Borders (as posted on Medium.com)

by Jeff Fleischer, MSW, CEO of Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP)

As a volcano threatens lives in Guatemala, our government is separating families seeking asylum in the U.S. from ongoing and unspeakable unnatural disasters in Latin America. The U.S. is taking children from their parents and placing them in shelters, including a building that used to be a Brownsville, Texas Walmart. To say this is an inhumane way to treat children and parents already under unimaginable distress is an understatement.

For the last three decades at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), I’ve had the opportunity to work in partnership with families facing extreme adversity — including incarceration, deep poverty, addiction, gang violence, human trafficking and being bounced from one out-of-home placement to another — to help them and their children stay safely at home and intact.

During these same decades, working alongside and in solidarity with community-based organizations in Guatemala, I witnessed firsthand the appalling violence and hardship families coming to the U.S. are escaping. Parents coming to our borders today risk everything, including their lives and those of their children, to give their families what everyone wants — peace, safety and the opportunity for their children to grow.

We can do better. Working together, can’t we come up with a way to give parents seeking asylum and their children a fair chance while treating them in a humane and reasonable way?

Our Congress and administration recently passed the Family First Prevention Services Act as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act. The Act aims to keep children out of the child welfare system by supporting community-based programs that strengthen families and keep them together. It redirects funds from group homes and other large residential facilities to in-home services families need, like community family-based mental health services, substance use treatment and parenting skill training.

This is a very positive policy, which we know from data on YAP’s programs, works — giving children the opportunity to reach their full potential while living with their families — at a fraction of the cost of separation and residential placement.

Let’s apply this same principle to families coming to our borders seeking asylum. Please encourage our lawmakers to redirect the funds currently being spent on ripping families apart and cramming children into converted Walmarts to solutions that temporarily place children seeking asylum with their own families and screened guardian-sponsors. Not only will this cost less, it’s safer and the right thing to do.


Jeff Fleischer, MSW, is CEO of Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP), a community-based organization, whose mission is to build community capacity and support youth and families to reach their full potential in their homes and communities instead of institutions. YAP operates programs in 22 states and Washington DC and has a footprint in several other countries.

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