CANAAN–Never heard of Sheltered Hearts? Neither had most of the standing-room-only crowd at the first Canaan Town Board meeting of 2020 chaired by Supervisor Brenda Adams January 13.
More than 75 persons attended the meeting at Town Hall to hear a presentation on a new program for “unaccompanied alien children” under federal control coming to the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth on state Route 22.
Sheltered Hearts is the name of a program at Berkshire Farm Center for unaccompanied alien children whose care is overseen and funded by a federal Department of Health and Human Services agency called Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). It would serve a total of approximately 300 migrant children, primarily teens and boys, annually at the center.
At the meeting Brian Parchesky, LMSW, president and CEO of Berkshire Farm Center, discussed the history of the center and school from its early days, when there were 250 youth in residence, and today, when the capacity limit of the center is 60 youth and the actual number of residents is 17. He also touched on history and trends within child care services statewide and nationally, with goals that press for children “to be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
Mr. Parchesky frequently noted in his presentation that all program-specific questions about the children who would reside at the center as part of the federal program must be addressed to, and answered only by, ACF.
Some questions of the Canaan residents at the meeting were addressed in a six-page handout from the Resettlement office. The agency reports it has provided care and found suitable sponsors for nearly 407,000 unaccompanied alien children nationwide and the numbers have increased, going from 13,625 in 2012 to approximately 67,100 children as of last August
The information available at the meeting also had nationwide information about where the children served by the agency are from: Guatemala, 54%; El Salvador, 12%; Honduras, 26%; and “other,” 8%. Approximately 73% of children are over 14 years of age, 71% are boys.
As of September 30, 2019 there were 5,000 children in care of ACF/ORR.
Average length of care for a child in the program dropped from 93 days in 2018 to 50 days in late 2019. With an available capacity of 40 to 43, this suggests Berkshire Farm could anticipate caring for from 290 to 305 unaccompanied alien children each year.
Services would include classroom education, mental and medical health services, case management, recreation, and, perhaps most important, unification services. Mr. Parchesky indicated Sheltered Hearts staff that would include six bilingual Spanish speaking, licensed social workers.
The ORR website says that “ORR promptly places an unaccompanied child in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interests of the child, taking into consideration danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight. ORR takes into consideration the unique nature of each child’s situation and incorporates child welfare principles when making placement, clinical, case management, and release decisions that are in the best interest of the child.”
The Berkshire Farm Center Sheltered Hearts Program has been recruiting online for a Bilingual Educational Coordinator for the Sheltered Hearts. The site says, “Our goal is to provide safe and timely reunification for a child and their family or suitable sponsor.
“In partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Sheltered Hearts Program provides family reunification and short-term shelter for children who have entered the United States without a guardian. Children reside in our family-style cottage located on our 2,000-acre campus while our bilingual staff provide a safe and nurturing environment for children.”
In response to a question about Berkshire Farm Center itself and its future, Mr. Parchesky stated emphatically there are no plans to sell its Queechy Lake property, noting its value for recreational programming.