Daniel Zingale, Senior Vice President of Healthy California, The California Endowment, a health-focused foundation that looks into the issue of children refugees within the state’s borders, said the conversation must move away from the politics and focus on the children. 

While the conversation has recently gotten louder with many politicians including Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Jerry Brown, speaking publically, Zingale said children have been making the perilous journey to escape violence for a long time. 

Joining voices

A LOVING GESTURE: A young girl shares her note expressing love for children fleeing violence in Central America.

Now, men, women and children across the country are joining their voices to stand up for refugee children who fled hardships in Central America. 

Zingale said a number of organizations have also stepped up to help refugee children including Save the Children and a wide range of faith leaders that are trying to address the needs of the children. 

“There is mounting evidence that the children coming to California are fleeing from a life of violence and suffering,” Zingale said. “For our small part, what we thought we could contribute would be to change the conversation, tone it down. We want to allow people to think and have conversations about this outside the hostility of the political debate; outside people yelling at each other.” 

The California Endowment is collecting and translating letters to distribute to children in facilities and shelters through its They Are Children initiative. 

The campaign borrows the concept of the Aids Quilt from the 1980s and 1990s that the most powerful statements can be the simplest statements of compassion from ordinary people.

“Collectively those voices express more than they do on their own,” Zingale said. 

Health and wellbeing

Zingale said no one could give an exact answer on how long it’s been happening or how many children are currently in the United States as no one has done a good job of tracking what’s happening over time. One thing is certain – children that are here are scared, confused and in a place uncertain of their futures. 

Many of the children, who have suffered unimaginable circumstances, are in need of some basic things such as toys, books and even a phone card to call home and let their loved ones know they are alive. 

“When children come from those circumstances, their health and wellbeing is our concern,” Zingale said.