• Dara Ely, SWB

SWB Included in MPI Report on Strengthening Services for Unaccompanied Children in U.S.

With an increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the United States’ southern border, the Migration Policy Institute has released its report: Strengthening Services for Unaccompanied Children in U.S. Communities. The report addresses the gap in resources for unaccompanied minors once they are released into custody of parents or other sponsors in the United States.


MPI research teams interviewed immigrant youth service providers including Soccer Without Borders Founder and Oakland Director Ben Gucciardi. Soccer Without Borders has been cited for best practices in the area of youth development. SWB programs provide a sense of belonging and consistency for young people whose lives are often in flux, having left their homes and often awaiting court proceedings.

“Over the last five years we’ve added more teams specifically to create opportunities for Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth, recognizing their unique socio-emotional needs and minimal family support,” explained Gucciardi. “They especially need mentorship and a positive peer group. Often, their team and SWB coach become the most consistent things in their lives.”


This World Refugee Day 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ latest Global Trends Report (2020) announced that children under 18 account for 42% of the 82.4 million displaced people in the world. This includes tens of thousands of minors from across Central America. In 2020, 44% of children crossing the United States southern border were unaccompanied. Many of these children experience violence and trauma on their journey to find a new home. They are placed into schools that correspond with their age, regardless of prior schooling or English proficiency. SWB programs are well-suited to offer educational and social-emotional support to these young people as well as community building through soccer programs.


Soccer Without Borders Oakland serves participants from 27 different countries, 60% of whom come from Central and South America. The program serves nearly 200 Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth annually and in partnership with the Oakland Unified School District, recently received a California Opportunity for Youth grant to expand its services to UIY students. SWB often serves as an intermediary, connecting participants to other service providers.


“There are a lot of systems and structures that are supposed to be taking care of these young people and that’s not always happening,” said Gucciardi. “They often have additional barriers to participation including having to work. They can’t just be kids because they have to start being adults.”


From the MPI brief: “At a time of heightened attention to the needs and circumstances of unaccompanied children, it is important to broaden that attention to include the time after they are released from federal custody. Doing so can lead to better outcomes for arriving children and the communities in which they will live while awaiting immigration proceedings.”


The following MPI report findings included insight from Gucciardi and SWB:

Finding 7: Service providers have sought to respond to pandemic-related needs, but resources for economic assistance are limited.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for support from community organizations that often fill in the gaps for unaccompanied children and their families was higher than ever. These organizations, including Soccer Without Borders, went beyond their normal scope to address needs such as food insecurity and lack of access technology needed for remote schooling. The report cited SWB’s Zoom practices that allowed our participants to stay connected with each other and their coach-mentors.


Finding 9: Because federally funded case management is limited, some service providers have taken on their own case management efforts.

Soccer Without Borders program coordinators serve as case managers and mentors for immigrant children. SWB’s after-school program is also an outlet for children to express their emotions in a non-clinical environment. “It offers a feeling of belonging and purpose. ... There is a group caring for you,” said Gucciardi.


Click here to access the complete MPI report


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