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A Humanitarian Crisis: Supporting the Health of Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Unaccompanied by adults, hundreds of teenagers and younger children are illegally crossing the U.S. border daily, desperately seeking refuge from chronic poverty and escalating violence in their Central American countries.

Active in addressing the needs of underserved populations since its founding in 1992, The California Wellness Foundation (Cal Wellness) is making grants to nonprofit organizations and supporting joint philanthropic efforts in the state to address the immediate health needs of migrant children apprehended along the border. The Foundation is also studying how it can best respond to the long-term needs of the children and their families.

“It is heartbreaking to see children in detention after making such hazardous and emotionally traumatic journeys to the U.S,” said Judy Belk, Cal Wellness’ president and CEO. “Our Foundation is actively exploring various opportunities to respond to the humanitarian crisis — to help address the health and social service needs of these minors.”

The phenomenon of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is not new, especially for young men from Mexico. But tens of thousands of boys and girls, some as young as 4 and 6 years of age, are now fleeing poverty and gang and drug violence that is raging in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Children are sometimes recruited to join gangs or face reprisals. Mothers have told reporters in Honduras that they would rather have their children risk the perilous journey to the U.S. than to see them kidnapped, raped or killed at home by brutal gang members.

The new surge by minors has overwhelmed U.S. detention facilities in Texas. Hundreds have been transported to centers run by the federal government or by private organizations in California and other states. Minors from Central America are eligible to receive hearings to see if they are eligible to stay in the U.S., but they are not guaranteed legal representation. After initial processing at the centers, and pending a court hearing, the children are placed with relatives in the U.S. if they can be located.

This week, Cal Wellness joined the California Community Foundation (CCF), the Weingart Foundation, The California Endowment and the California HealthCare Foundation in the launch of a relief fund to help address the refugee youth crisis. The Our Children Relief Fund, created by CCF, assists nonprofit organizations that are impacted by the crisis by supporting their efforts to provide shelter, health services, social services and legal representation. For more about the fund, please visit

Cal Wellness also made grants to Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange County and Catholic Charities of California, Inc. to provide support services to immigrant families. Services provided by the agency include primary health care, health education, legal support and referrals, counseling and resettlement support.

“Assistance for the undocumented children marks the latest chapter in the Foundation’s long history of support for underserved populations along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Belk said. Since 1998, the Foundation has provided 28 grants, totaling more than $7 million, for this purpose. Much of the funding has bolstered health and wellness services for low-income patients at community clinics near the Mexican border. Other grants have supported cross-border health projects and research on tuberculosis and other illnesses.

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