Unaccompanied Children Shelters

I’ve posted some image galleries in the menu dropdown “proofing” section of my website that were for Maria Kenney, Thomas Perry and James LoBianco to review.  I’m going to leave the images there so that they can view the images but I can keep the blog more private at the moment. If you would like to view those images the password is HeartlandColumbia2020. I think I’m going to move them into the blog as well shortly but in the meantime ya’ll can see them where they are as well.  These images were a long time in the making as most of you know I had to go through lots of emails, meetings, site visits, training and then requesting/scheduling days to make images with pre-approved lists of what I could photograph and then a long wait due to Covid-19.  Between all that pre-image making and finally going in to make images a lot has obviously changed.  Mainly the pandemic but specifically the unforeseen results being that children are not being allowed entry into the United States and as such the shelters are running at drastically reduced capacity.  The ICC is currently empty but when I was first there making images there were still a couple kids there.  The ICRC had about 5 kids when I was there last and I think has reduced their population further.  As of last week CHAP still had a couple very young children aged about 4-6 years old.  There were always going to be limitations on how I could interact with the children including not being able to photograph the children in a recognizable fashion, not being able to have conversations with the children that could trigger memories of their past traumas etc.  After having experienced in a conversation I had with one of the former RICS Ravenswood participants (that I mention in another blog post) how my questions/conversation can easily trigger past traumas, I’m very aware and trying very hard not to have a repeat of that with the children when I interact with them.  Through this whole process I’ve become much more aware of other people’s trauma and how easy it is to accidentally open up old wounds.  It’s a very difficult line to walk when you both want to learn about people, hear their stories and engage with people while still maintaining a trauma informed practice.  All that being said there is very little opportunity now to engage directly with the children at these centers.  That could change but I’m not counting on it.  After having a meeting with Maria, Thomas and James last Friday morning I have some new ideas for how I’d like to proceed working within these shelters.   I mentioned in my email to them and discussed in the meeting how I thought it was very interesting and quite inspiring to find that the majority of the staff at these shelters are in fact immigrants themselves.  This has been a slightly recurring theme for me to find that often many of the people who are most helping new immigrants have ties to immigration or are immigrants themselves. James LoBianco really really liked the idea of working with their frontline staff who care directly for the children and my observation about the demographics of the UC shelter staff.  My thoughts were that while I might not be able to ask the children directly many questions, reveal them physically or ID them, the staff could both act as a conduit to the children’s stories while simultaneously contributing personal stories of immigration themselves.  I think there’s a lot of possibility here.  I could do in person interviews on camera, off camera with just audio, over zoom, also make photographs with the staff etc.  Regardless of lockdown realities I can envision a way to engage with the staff and get to the heart of what these centers do, who works there, and who they care for.  Currently many of the staff are working one week on site and one week off remotely.  I think there’s a want/need as well for things that engage the staff in the issues I’m exploring as well while there are not many children to care for.  This has increasingly become more personal for me as my wife Bee has begun working at the ICC in Roger’s Park.  While my wife has taken very good care to adhere to her work guidelines and maintain Heartland and participant privacy, I still in the abstract have gotten to know much more about what it’s like at the UC shelters through her and through meeting her coworkers every night when I pick her up from work.  When I talked with Maria, Thomas and James about the images I’ve made so far they were excited to see the progress but said that when things are closer to a final product (culminating event, final edit, exhibition etc) they would like to see everything in context.  James said there were a few images that hit him kinda hard which I won’t mention yet as I’d like to hear if other people are having similar reactions.   Additionally I’m also still very interested in exploring how the children exist within and have to navigate through the larger system of immigration.  I keep thinking to myself, what does that system look like? I’m currently working on a proposal for how I’ll proceed with the staff at the centers and I have emails out with Maria coordinating with the directors of each shelter to schedule several more days making images at both the ICC, ICRC and at CHAP where I’ve been but not photographed yet.

One thought on “Unaccompanied Children Shelters”

  1. Thank you for sharing this update Jonathan. The point that stuck with me most from this post is when you mentioned “through this whole process I’ve become much more aware of other people’s trauma and how easy it is to accidentally open up old wounds. It’s a very difficult line to walk when you both want to learn about people, hear their stories and engage with people while still maintaining a trauma informed practice.” I was excited to view the photos from ICC and ICRC. I found the contrast between the many empty beds and the piles of clothing kits (i think) striking. I am excited to learn of how you will proceed with your work.

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