By Ashtyn Porter


For immigrant children crossing the border, their journey to a safe home is a long one. Most cross to reunite with family in the United States, while others may cross without connections, but hope to be placed with a sponsor family—all come here with the goal of gaining access to resources to help them build a brighter future. After arriving, children are typically housed in large shelters at the border until such families can be found and vetted, a process that can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, or even longer. EnCircle is part of a large network of organizations working to place these children in short-term foster care programs while family members and sponsors are found, vetted, and trained, ensuring these children can be brought to a safe home as soon as possible, instead of waiting at the border.

The short-term foster care program, operating out of Richmond, provides a warm environment for immigrant children while they wait to be placed with families or sponsors. This short-term placement can be up to 60  days, but most children will only be in the program for an average of two weeks. While in our care, children will be given a medical examination to ensure they are healthy, provided mental health services, and will be brought to an educational program each day. Children will be taught English and other academic subjects, as well as cultural lessons, to help them navigate American culture and society.

Margaret Nimmo Holland, enCircle’s Chief Engagement Officer who has been working to fill the many new positions created by this program, emphasized the importance of this work. "We are trying to provide them a safe and enriching environment during the day, and then their foster families are trained to keep them the rest of the time and have them live in a home with a family until they can be reunited with their own family."

This program is part of enCircle’s larger continuum of services available to immigrant families, in which we help sponsors through the vetting process and provide case management for children placed with new families, offering medical, educational, and legal resources. With our experience working with immigrant families and many years of supporting our treatment foster care program, enCircle has taken the next step and expanded our services to include the short-term foster care program, which is possible due to our work with Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services (LIRS).

"Funding for the program is coming from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which works with a network of national agencies, such as LIRS. Those national agencies subcontract with folks like us on the ground who provide direct services," Nimmo Holland explained. "What’s good about that is LIRS has a lot of experience with doing this, so they are guiding us through the many rules and regulations. We've talked to folks in Michigan, South Carolina, and Georgia — people who are already doing these programs so we can really get a sense of what it's like day to day."

Amy Barbour, the Director of Foster Care, emphasized the need for foster families. "Foster parents will go through the same process as those involved in our treatment foster care program but will also be involved in an extra 30-40 hours of training specifically to work with unaccompanied migrant children to learn the language and cultural aspects."

As a new program, there are many positions that need to be filled. EnCircle is currently looking for a Program Manager to oversee the short-term foster care program specifically, as well as staff who are bilingual in English and Spanish and interested in working as case managers, case intake specialists, clinicians, and teachers. If you or someone you know has a background in social work or social psychology and has bilingual fluency, you can find more information on our new positions here.

"We at enCircle are really excited about going deeper into serving the immigrant community. While there are many challenges, it is really in line with our mission and guiding principles,” Nimmo Holland emphasized. “We are basing this on the history and expertise we have in foster care and in case management, and while this is definitely a new challenge for us, it’s one we are really excited to embark on. It is a huge need that fits squarely within our mission and what we’re called to do."

You can find out more about our short-term foster care program here. Families in the Richmond area who are interested in helping immigrant children have a temporary home are encouraged to reach out. Our circle is wide, and all are included.