March 17, 2023

For agency president and foster parents, children crossing the border comes down to ‘a simple question’

By John Shaughnessy

Chris Palusky knows how politically divisive and emotionally charged the whole border issue is in the United States.

At the same time, the president and chief executive officer of Bethany Christian Services tries to convince people to focus on the heart of what his organization is doing in its short-term foster care program for unaccompanied children who arrive at the Mexican-American border—a program that strives to help the children make the transition to being reunited with their parents or other family members.

“Imagine standing on a riverbank and seeing a child drowning in the river,” Palusky notes on the international organization’s website, “Wouldn’t you immediately jump in the river to save the child? Now imagine that, after saving the first child, you see more children struggling in the river. You would question why so many children are falling into the river upstream, and whether someone is throwing them in.

“These are good and important questions, but in this hypothetical scenario, I don’t think any of us would refuse to help the children in the river until our questions are answered. The immediate priority would be to make sure the children are safe.

“This is a good metaphor for the current situation with unaccompanied children at the border. For a variety of tragic reasons, there are a lot of children ‘struggling in the river’ right now. It is important to address the reasons why this is happening ‘upstream,’ but in the meantime, our first and greatest priority is helping children who are alone, in danger, and afraid. To me, it is unconscionable that the welfare of these children would be used as a pawn in political debate. They deserve better.

“The situation comes down to a simple question: Do children fleeing violence and poverty deserve a safe and loving home? From the perspective of my Christian faith, the answer is an unqualified yes. Bethany’s short-term immigrant foster care program is a tangible way that you can say yes to these children.”

In central Indiana, Bethany’s immigrant foster care program works in collaboration with the Social Concerns Ministries of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese. Bethany’s efforts to help unaccompanied refugee children are also supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Anne and Jerry Corcoran of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis are among the Catholics in the archdiocese who have opened their homes as foster parents for unaccompanied refugee children.

“They’re with us for as long as it takes for their parents to prove who they are,” Anne says. “The average stay is about two weeks.”

She encourages anyone who may be interested in becoming a part of this program to check the website for Bethany Christian Services, adding that the organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., provides extensive support for people who offer foster care to the children.

“You can make a safe place for these children for a while,” she says. “That means a lot. It also means a lot to be able to reunite these families. It takes energy, but the reward is so huge.” †


Related story: Families open their hearts and homes to unaccompanied children crossing the border

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