Kristi House Offers Critical Mental Health Services via its Proyecto Brazos Abiertos Program for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children



Kristi House, the Children’s Advocacy Center for Miami-Dade County, was selected by the U.S. government to provide evidence-based therapy services to minors in two Miami-Dade shelters. Fleeing from violence, poverty, abuse, and often inhumane conditions, these youth, mostly ages 13-17, are dealing with major traumatic experiences. Added to the long and challenging journey to the United States, most are coping with trauma associated with family separation, a new and foreign environment, and uncertainty about the future.

With a team of specially trained mental health clinicians, Proyecto Brazos Abiertos (a.k.a.  Open Arms Project), is providing front-line, evidence-based trauma treatment for dozens of kids in greatest need in   licensed shelters in Miami-Dade. Kristi House education specialists are also providing courses for the shelter staff on trauma-informed care, and classes for the teens on ways to keep safe from predators.

Over the past two decades, Kristi House has become a leader in treating various forms of child abuse, especially sexual abuse, and restoring children’s lives. Proyecto Brazos Abiertos utilizes the most effective intervention available for traumatized children and adolescents today, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). This proven therapy approach empowers kids, (and their caregivers when available), to assess and better cope with post-traumatic stress symptoms like intrusive memories, depression, anxiety, and self-harm.  If left untreated, cumulative childhood trauma has been associated with higher rates of long-term psychiatric disorders and negative outcomes in health and functioning in adulthood[1].

“We want to provide these kids with the building blocks to heal and thrive, while overcoming the negative stigmas associated with seeking therapy,” says Amanda Altman, CEO of Kristi House. “With our partners at local shelters , we’re identifying the children in greatest need and encouraging them to accept our help. Sometimes they are fearful of disclosing trauma due to how it may affect their sponsor placement”

Kristi House has received major support from SAMHSA since 2012 for its therapy services and training to build capacity in the community to treat children overcoming all types of trauma. SAMHSA tapped Kristi earlier this year to provide services to unaccompanied youth. Kristi House named the initiative, Proyecto Brazos Abiertos, and is now expanding it to connect with youth recently released from shelters and detention centers to ensure continued access to specialized therapy, free of charge, for them and their sponsor-families.

“The fortunate youth who are matched with relatives or sponsors still need support to overcome the trauma they’ve endured,” Kristi House Program Director Dr. Vanessa Ramirez explained. “Their time at the shelter or detention center is generally relatively short, just a matter of weeks. Once they are released, the kids are not likely to have the resources to continue therapy. We’re here to help so their trauma does not forever define their lives.”

To learn more about Kristi House’s Proyecto Brazos Abiertos program, click here. 

[1]Journal of the American Medical Association. “Association of Childhood Trauma Exposure With Adult Psychiatric Disorders and Functional Outcomes.” 9 November 2018. Web. 27 June 2019. <>

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