This post is part of a two-part blog series on unaccompanied minors in New York. Last month, the Children’s Defense Fund – New York and the Health Care for All NY coalition presented two webinars on unaccompanied minors and access to health services. The full recordings and materials for Unaccompanied Minors and Health Care Access and Unaccompanied Minors and Behavioral Health Services are available at the HCFANY website.
Guest Post: Lorraine Gonzalez-Camastra, Director of Health Policy, Children’s Defense Fund – NY
In the past six months, national attention has turned to unaccompanied minors migrating from the Northern Triangle region of Central America – specifically El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These are children that migrate from their home countries – without a legal guardian – to seek safety and opportunity. Individual states like New York are in a position to ensure the security, placement, and connection to health services and education, as well as the linkage to other social service supports for these children/youth and their families.
While the migrations of unaccompanied minors to the United States from the Northern Triangle is not new, in the past year, there has been a surge of minors entering the U.S. from this area – more than double compared with previous years. In fiscal year 2014, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children entered the U.S. from Central America. The fundamental need for safety is the primary reason that many of these minors have left their respective countries of origin. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, found that Honduras had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012, at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador was fourth in the world, with a rate of 41.2 homicides per 100,000 people; and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.
Approximately 5,000 of the unaccompanied children who arrived to the U.S. in the past fiscal year have settled in New York State, mainly in the downstate area. The majority of them, more than 2,700, have settled on Long Island specifically, according to the Administration for Children and Families.
New York State – a recognized leader in health insurance access for children and families – is in a prime position to move ahead with implementing the existing policies that can help these children enroll in health insurance coverage. The Children’s Health Insurance Program – also known as Child Health Plus in New York – offers a comprehensive coverage option for all children who reside in the state, regardless of income or immigration status. Additionally, the state’s Medicaid program opted to expand under the Affordable Care Act and now covers all children and their families up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, allowing more children to get covered without any cost sharing by their families. Let’s optimize this opportunity and connect these children to coverage in order to grant them opportunities for care.