FORT WORTH — Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which has doubled its amount of space to house refugee children from Central America, is prepared to help other agencies set up future shelters.“Our nation is facing a humanitarian crisis,” said Heather Reynolds, president/CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth.Thousands of youngsters fleeing violence and abuse in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have arrived in the United States and their numbers are expected to escalate to between 60,000 and 90,000 this year.Already, 200 unaccompanied minors have received help in Fort Worth. The organization, which partners with the federal government, will be converting office space to make room for 32 children. Currently, there is room for 16.“We are called to step up — Catholic Charities Fort Worth is ready to be doing so,” Reynolds said Friday during a news conference in Fort Worth. Most of the children helped so far have been reunited with relatives, and three youngsters have been placed with foster families, Reynolds said.The Fort Worth group is ready to help other agencies, working with Catholic Charities USA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to set up future shelters.Assisting young victimsThe children assisted by Catholic Charities Fort Worth are ages five to 13, Reynolds said. Some are the victims of human trafficking or sexual assault, she said.“Gangs have become a part of everyday life,” Reynolds said, adding that some youngsters have described how others in their neighborhoods have turned up dead.Case workers in Fort Worth help nourish them and offer counseling. The children typically stay in Fort Worth for two to four weeks. Working with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, efforts are made to unite the children with relatives who are already in the United States, Reynolds said. “They have memorized a phone number,” Reynolds said. “They have been told who to call when they get here.”Catholic Charities’ immigration services tries to determine if cases can result in a legal status.While Reynolds doesn’t have any official statistics, she said some of these youngsters have succeeded in getting asylum.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1