Monthly Archives: December 2017

The ISS Global Network Shares a Rich History of Working with Migrants


As we acknowledge International Migrants Day, it is important to note the complexities of the world where more people than ever live on the move or in a country they were not born. These individuals and families are fleeing personal violence, state sponsored genocide, poverty, religious or ethnic persecution, and starvation. The simple adage that people are moving for a “better life” is not, and never was applicable to the large scale movement of people.

We must acknowledge the constant physical and mental danger that forces people to leave behind all they have and know, in order to protect themselves and their families from the growing threats of all forms of extremism, climate change, failed economic development, and violence. More importantly, we must support international cooperation to ensure the safe passage and integration of migrants into new communities. This is, and has always been, the purpose of the International Social Service network.

Twenty-five years after the founding of the International Migration Service (later changed to International Social Service) in 1924, an internal survey of the agency included the statement:

Normal movement of population, displacement due to war,
political or religious oppression, international marriages,
all of these create a need for people and agencies to work
together across borders and frontiers to prevent the
discouragement and suffering which contribute to break-down in
family unity, waste of individual potentialities, and
international ill-will.

More importantly and apropos of the current political climate in the United States, the founding documents assert, “(m)any laws and regulations have been enacted without consideration of their possible effects on human well-being.”

As a social service network, International Social Service’s primary concern is the physical and emotional safety of our clients; all of whom are, for a variety of reasons, separated from their families across an international border. Our unique and enduring legacy since our founding in 1924, is the ability to cooperate with our partners in dozens of countries to achieve that goal. The network currently operates in 130 countries and serves over 75,000 individuals and families each year. We advocate for the inclusion of immigrants, refuges and asylees in our communities, and for their social and emotional needs to be met alongside their legal battles.

The theme of this year’s International Migrants Day is “safe migration in a world on the move.” This is a time when international cooperation among agencies, governments, and individuals is more crucial than ever.

Reframing False Dichotomies: Child Protection is Not Black and White

The history of child welfare in this country has been rife with persistent dichotomies about outcomes and best practices in child protection. These “all or nothing” approaches to child protection are dangerous in a number of ways. The language about what is “best” often ignores what is best for a particular child. These arguments rely on invoking an aggregate group of children and completely ignoring the individual child with a set of unique needs.

The idea that “all children should be deinstitutionalized” does not allow for a useful discussion about children who need long-term, in-patient or other institutional care because they are a danger to themselves or others, or because their particular needs are so complex that they cannot safely be cared for in a homebased setting. It is better to look at what resources each particular child needs and ensure that those resources are readily available, of high quality, and designed specifically to promote the safety and well-being of each individual child. This could mean increasing in-home care for some children whose families, with support, can provide the very best care for that child. It can also mean that viable out-of-home options must be created when the child’s needs cannot be met in the home. Moving forward, we must determine, in a consistent and productive way, which child needs which services and how we can best redirect resources to promote the best outcome for an individual child.

Are all institutions that house children inherently bad? Should we abolish all institutional forms of care for children? What happens to children who cannot stay in their biological family or safely remain in foster or kinship care? These are the questions that must be asked if we are to take a truly child-centered approach to protecting vulnerable children. Our job is to ensure that each child is placed in the best setting to promote the safe and sustainable growth of mind and body. We are not promoting some Draconian idea of the poor house or the orphanage. We are promoting an open discussion about what to do when a child needs an institutional setting to meet his or her needs.

We are in full agreement that there are far too many instances where out of home care settings are far more dangerous for a child than remaining in a family setting. Whether it is unscrupulous orphanages that are trafficking children in Haiti or an ill-maintained “children’s home” in Guatemala that cost the lives of forty girls, the answer is not to reject the idea of institutionalization because of hazardous practices. The answer is that we need to examine what resources are needed to provide appropriate institutional care, monitor outcomes, and ensure that children are not languishing in out of home care.