On a hot Maryland summer day, two toddlers play in the wading area of a community pool. Their glee is uncontainable as they dump water-filled plastic pails over each other’s heads. A few weeks earlier, these little ones would not come close to the water.

By Lulu Garcia-Navrro, Sophia Alvarez Boyd, and Josh Axelrod

“When they both came, they were terrified of the pool,” says their foster mother Christi. “Terrified. And now we kind of have to stay in this pool because she will jump head first into the big pool.”

Christi is not a typical foster mother. She takes in migrant children from Central America who have been separated from their families at the border. Due to federal rules, NPR is unable to identify the names of the children in Christi’s care and is only using her first name.

In the last two and a half years, Christi has fostered dozens of migrant children, while she and her husband balance their jobs and raise their own children. Her family recently moved to a larger house to provide more space for the foster kids.

She is paired with kids through Bethany Christian Services, one of many nonprofits that contracts with the government to place unaccompanied minors.

“Our conviction for [taking in migrant children] has only gotten stronger as time goes on.” Christi says. “Any kid that’s in my house is, at least while they’re here, safe. I know that they’re safe, I know that they’re loved, I know that they’re cared for.”

Other organizations, like the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Catholic Charities serve as intermediaries that offer an alternative to large border facilities. Around 550 children have been placed in transitional foster care this year.

The children who qualify for this type of care are typically more in need, like toddlers, sick children or teenage moms.

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