New Grant Gives Hope and Healing for Unaccompanied Migrant Children in New Jersey

​More than 12,000 Unaccompanied Migrant Children, some as young as six years old, have settled in New Jersey over the past five years. Many of the youths experienced severe trauma in the forms of abuse or neglect before, during, and after their migration. Through a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Family and Children’s Services (FACS) ( of Elizabeth, NJ, provides evidence-based trauma therapy to vulnerable children who were separated from caregivers as a result of their migration to the United States.

The Unaccompanied Migrant Children typically arrive in the United States after having fled gang violence or other trauma in Central America. Once in New Jersey, the children are settled by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) into the home of an adult relative or other qualified custodian, who agrees to provide a stable environment for the child.

"Even after their arrival in the U.S., the children are frequently in need of counseling to address trauma caused by parental separation, life-threatening conditions during their journeys, and, often, physical and sexual abuse. All of these adverse experiences may cause lasting damage to a child’s sense of security and safety, which presents challenges as they attempt to settle into their new country," said Molly Fagan, LCSW, Executive Director of FACS.

Once the youth arrive in New Jersey, they frequently exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including nightmares, panic attacks, and a reluctance to participate in daily activities, including school. For already traumatized children, anxiety and fear about COVID-19 can exacerbate symptoms. “We sometimes see children who lost a parent to random violence in their home country now anxious that they will lose their adult caregiver in New Jersey to COVID,” Fagan said.

To assist the children, FACS’ team of bilingual mental health clinicians employs therapeutic models such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), a treatment that helps children and caregivers process traumatic events and learn skills to promote emotional and behavioral stability. Through the HEART (Hope, Empathy And Recovery from Trauma) program, Family and Children’s Services also offers the migrant children and their families help with locating community resources, such as food pantries.

For the treatment team at FACS, seeing a child progress from paralyzing anxiety and sadness, to engaging with peers and participating in school is tremendously rewarding. “We feel privileged to use proven therapies to make a difference in the lives of these vulnerable children,” said Fagan.

Family and Children’s Services has served the Union County, New Jersey area for more than 127 years. Our Mission: Building Hope and Healing Trauma to Strengthen Families and Communities. FACS is a proud member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), which raises the standard of care for traumatized children, their families, and communities throughout the United States​.

Contact: Abby Colen, LCSW,; 908-352-7474

Source: Family and Children's Services, Inc.


Categories: Non Profit

Tags: childhood trauma, Family and Children's Services, immigration, nctsn, samhsa, trauma therapy, unaccompanied migrant children

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