Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s Refugee Foster Care program serves refugee and asylee children who were driven from countries for reasons of persecution.
The program resettles these children with foster parents in counties across the Bay Area and supports them with their services. The program differs from domestic foster care programs because all efforts to reunite the children with their family are already exhausted and the program provides long-term foster parents until they are 18-years- old and sometimes longer, according to Francis Bencik, the Refugee Foster Care community coordinator.
Catholic Charities began serving refugees 30 years ago with their Vietnam and Yugoslavia refugee resettlement program for adults and families. Twelve years ago, they switched their focus to children.
“In 2004, we started this group… because there is a growing need for agencies who exclusively serve unaccompanied children,” said Bencik.
Today, they serve about 100 clients. About half are in foster homes across the Bay Area and the other half are over 18 years but still benefit from the program’s services as long as they are in school or working. If they meet these criteria, they can stay in the program until they are 25 years.
The program partners with United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who then works with the government to connect the program with the refugee children.
It’s a long process to get approved for resettlement so the children who arrive are often 14 to 17-years-olds. Once they get approved the children have to wait for programs to find them foster homes, said Bencik.
“We are always looking for foster parents,” said Bencik. “The children are waiting and if they turn 18 before we find a home, then they can’t resettle with the program… That’s really scary for an 18-year-old – to go to a new country, usually not knowing anyone and having significantly less support [if they must resettle as an adult].”
Foster parents for this program can be of any religious faith or race. They can be married or single, have a big family or no children at all. They do have to be over 21 years, according to the program’s orientation materials.
“We have really diverse foster parents,” said Bencik. “They have a passion for the cause and they’re usually social justice oriented.”
The foster parent certification process can take three to six months. Once a parent is certified, he or she will be matched up with a waiting refugee child. The program’s goal is to keep a child with one foster parent until he or she ages out of the program, making a foster parent’s commitment average about two to five years.
“We pride ourselves on giving quality services to our clients,” said Bencik.
The program encourages the children to build lives for themselves in the US and even helps them apply to and finance college.
“We had just this year nine of our clients graduate from high school,” said Bencik. “One of them who originally came here didn’t speak any English and she got accepted to UC Berkley.”
The program always needs donations and volunteers. They’re also looking for host families who can rent a room out for below market value to the program’s older clients. These host families are more like roommates that might monitor them a little bit, according to Bencik. They’re also open to new ideas of how to support their clients.
“We’re really open to collaborating with the community, especially if they have any ideas,” said Bencik.
Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s Refugee Foster Care program aims to grow their client load to 130 over the next year so they can serve more refugee children.
To become a foster parent or to learn more about the program visit www.catholiccharitiesscc.org/refugee-foster-care.