Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSS-ND)

Program Name

Lutheran Social Services’ Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The goals and objectives of the LSS-ND Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program are to: reunite youth with biological parents or other family members; provide food, clothing, shelter, daily living and language skills until the child is prepared to live independently and achieve steady employment or college/vocational school enrollment; help URM minors develop appropriate self-sufficiency skills; and assist youth in the process of acculturation to American society, while helping the youth maintain their cultural identity. Unique Needs of Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URMs): As a result of wartime trauma and tragedy, many children are forced to flee their homes and seek sanctuary in refugee camps where they hope to be safe from the effects of war. All too often, the biological families of these children are lost, imprisoned or killed. The trauma continues for these children during their flight and even while residing in a refugee camp. These children have been tragically orphaned or separated from their families due to the traumas of war and were left to fend for themselves. Fleeing to established refugee camps was viewed as a form of sanctuary for these youth but they were often victimized upon arrival. As more and more unaccompanied children were discovered in refugee camps, the need for assistance and targeted programming demanded urgent response. In time, some unaccompanied refugee minors manage to be resettled in the United States. Upon resettlement, these children are in need of services such as guardianship and intensive case management services, education, medical/mental health services, and foster care, which provide a safe, caring, and nurturing environment.

Program Description

Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program (URM): The United States Refugee Program includes specialized resettlement and foster care services for unaccompanied refugee minors. These services are provided by two national voluntary agencies: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS). These agencies have been authorized by the U.S. Department of State to resettle unaccompanied refugee youth for more than 25 years. LIRS and USCCB/MRS work through a network of local affiliates (licensed child welfare agencies) to provide appropriate support services. Services provided   include, but is not limited to: indirect financial support for housing, food, clothing, and other necessities; medical care; mental and emotional health services; intensive case management; independent living skills training; education/ELL; academic tutoring; job skills training and career counseling; family tracing; group recreational activities; special education services; legal assistance; and other services, as needed. Minors are encouraged to maintain their cultural identity. They have access to ethnic role models, important cultural events, peer groups from their own culture, and the practice of their spirituality. Services that Support Emancipation: Many refugee youth can and do benefit from remaining in foster care until the age of 21. If URMs are resettled when they are in their late teens, they often remain in high school until age 19 or, in some cases, until they are 20. These extra years in the foster care program enable them to continue to work on educational progress and Independent Living skills. Since these refugee youth often do not have a biological family to rely on as a support system after emancipation, it is important to encourage the maintenance of a relationship between former foster parent(s) and the emancipating youth. In addition, program staff assess the refugee youth's ability to comprehend and navigate the various social systems, in order to ease their emancipation, and provide training in additional life skills, as needed. Youth are offered the opportunity to participate in quarterly group recreational activities and independent living skills training. Examples of past activities include bowling, theater plays, sports outings, camping trips, etc. We offer presentations on the following subjects to enhance/build Independent living skills: money management; food and nutrition; health and hygiene; dating and intimacy; and other topics.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Daniel Memorial Independent Living Assessment is utilized, along with the skills curricula offered by the same company. 

Groups Served by Program

The URM Program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota currently serves 48 youth from various countries, including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia, and D.R. Congo.

Program Funding

Refugee foster care programs are funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Administration of Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services through State Refugee Coordinator offices. The state office then funds the local programs. The program is licensed and monitored regularly by the State child welfare authority.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

This program employs Board-licensed social workers for case management, foster care licensing, and supervision positions.  North Dakota Department of Human Services sponsors a four-week Child Welfare Certification Training which covers the foundation of child welfare practice and child abuse and neglect procedures; the assessment process and provision of services to families; knowledge and skills applicable to working with the legal system and understanding the laws that govern child welfare work; family reunification; working with foster families; and placement issues. In addition, a variety of webinars, conferences, trainings, and seminars are available for staff to attend.

Program Evaluation

Program success is defined and measured by the following outcomes:  

  1. Quarterly evaluation of achievement of service goals via permanency plan meetings between client, foster parent(s), service providers, and State representatives; Increased English language speaking, reading, and writing skills;
  2. Attainment of self-sufficiency skills;
  3. Reunification of clients with biological parents, if possible, or with non-parental adult relatives;
  4. Preparation for post-secondary education or full-time employment; and
  5. Client's level of satisfaction with case management services.

Program Outcomes

Additional Comments

The URM program receives regular site monitoring visits by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the ND Department of Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Furthermore, its parent agency, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services, an international, independent, not-for-profit child and family service and behavioral healthcare accrediting organization that partners with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying and promoting accreditation standards.

Program Contact

Ms. Katie Saez URM Program Supervisor
(701) 235-7341

Program Dates

Lutheran Social Services' Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program was formed in 1975 as a result of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare request for assistance from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) to resettle unaccompanied refugee minors. This program began in 1981; it is still operating as of March 2014.