Author Archives: Felicity Northcott

#GivingTuesday: A Global Movement to Celebrate Year-End Charitable Giving

Founded in 2012, the global day of giving, #GivingTuesday, has brought together individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy through a day of giving; whether it is your time, your voice, or your financial support. For years, #GivingTuesday has celebrated generosity both in the U.S. and across the world. This global event allows everyone to give back after the U.S. retail sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. This year, #GivingTuesday will be held on November 27th.

As you gather with your family members this holiday season, consider #GivingTuesday as a way to support vulnerable families. International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) has been working across international borders for over 90 years to connect children, adults, and families to the social services they need. As participants in #GivingTuesday, ISS-USA is encouraging individuals to act as advocates for the mobilization of our global social service network by making a donation between now and November 27.

ISS-USA works globally to provide social services for vulnerable cross-border families. Due to generous donations received in 2017, ISS-USA was able to open 894 cases, provide social work and legal training for 1500 professionals, and connect 1,150 children and adults to social services all over the World.

With proper funding, the International Social Service global network is able to work effectively to support repatriating citizens and the reunification of families. With the support of donors, the members of our global network can ensure the safety and continued care of the children, adults, and families who have become vulnerable due to migration and other issues.

To follow our #GivingTuesday campaign, join us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, with the hashtag, #GivingISSGood.

Immigrant Parents are Not Failing Their Children, We Are. Providing Cross-Border Social Services Can Help.

For nearly one-hundred years, the International Social Service (ISS) Network has worked to connect children and families separated across borders. ISS plans and executes safe repatriation and reintegration services for cross-border families, while promoting policies and best practices in international child welfare. Recently, the policy of separating children from their families seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States has garnered a great deal of negative attention from child welfare experts and is not in line with child-centered, human rights policies in the best interest of the child.

The outrage and sorrow we feel by the separation (or mass incarceration) of families who present themselves at our border is intense. Parents do not make the decision lightly to take the harrowing journey with their children from their home country. It is heartbreaking and difficult, but in many cases they do it to save their children’s lives and give them a better future.

Lacking from proposed solutions to family separation issues is the recognition of social services needed to connect families within the U.S. and across international borders. Parents making difficult choices deserve the opportunity to be involved in decision-making for their children. U.S-based family members should also feel supported in their efforts to protect children who can safely be released to a sponsor.

Social service professionals have an overlooked and important role to play in this crisis and with separated families as a whole. International Social Service – USA (ISS-USA) practices family finding and engagement for all children in institutional care and the coordination of domestic and international social work services to ensure child protection is at the forefront of decision making. Here is a list of services ISS-USA offers for children.

It was the Wisdom of Solomon that illustrated the love a parent has for a child. A parent would rather lose their child than allow them to be harmed in any way. The fate of these separated children is now uncertain and we must demand that they are reunited with their families as quickly as possible. Providing essential cross-border social services is an integral part of the reunification process.

It’s National Foster Care Month and All Over the World, #KidsAreWaiting


Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are waiting to be reconnected to their families. A staggering number of children have been separated from their families because of the opioid crisis, the growing number of people being deported, the increase in the trafficking of young people, a rising number of international parental abductions, and economic and family crises. Likewise, there are thousands of children outside of the United States who are waiting to be reconnected to their families in the U.S.

International Social Service-USA is launching the #kidsarewaiting campaign to highlight the barriers children face in reuniting with their families across state and country borders. Here are some statistics:

– 107,000 #kidsarewaiting to be adopted in the U.S.
– 100,000 #kidsarewaiting in U.S. foster care for their families in foreign countries to be engaged in permanency planning for them.
– 30,000 #kidsarewaiting to be deinstitutionalized in the U.S.
– 20,000 #kidsarewaiting to leave group homes in the U.S.
– 193,000 #kidsarewaiting in non-relative foster homes to be reunited with family.

– #kidsarewaiting to be reunited with their left-behind parent after being abducted by a parent to a foreign country.
– #kidsarewaiting to be safely reintegrated into their communities after being trafficked.
– #kidsarewaiting for documents from a another country to be allowed to legally remain in the U.S.
– #kidsarewaiting for us to evaluate their non-custodial parent’s home in another state so they can find permanency.

International Social Service-USA provides the social work services needed to make permanency decisions in the best interest of the child when a state or national border separates that child from his or her family. We can:
1) provide home studies on parents or extended family to assess the suitability and sustainability of placing the child in that home;
2) conduct relative and document tracings to support immigration relief or ensure that a child can enroll in school and access benefits in the U.S. or abroad;
3) facilitate virtual family engagement activities including attending family team meetings, attending legal and judicial proceedings, and communicating with the child;
4) conduct child resource surveys in the community to where the child is moving or retuning to ensure that the child will have all the necessary supports when they arrive.

Far too many children in the U.S. and around the World are waiting for us to make decisions and conduct services to support permanency for them. International Social Service-USA believes the existence of a state or national border between a child and his or her family is not an excuse for not looking for, engaging, or evaluating that family. For over 90 years we have served millions of children and families who faced this kind of separation and helped them find each other. To learn more about our services for children, visit the Services for Children page of our website. To donate to assist children and families in need, visit our donation page.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2018: Best Practices in Permanency Planning for Children with Family Connections in a Foreign Country

Several years ago, a child in foster care from a western U.S. state was placed in the care of her extended family in Mexico. There had been no home study on the family, background checks, or other basic assessments to determine if this placement was in the child’s best interest. The child ultimately died of injuries inflicted upon her by her aunt and uncle. The tragedy resulted in a common “knee-jerk” reaction: shut down all foreign placements of foster children with their extended families.

The dual problem with this response is: 1) in too many cases, children are denied a permanent home with appropriate family in other countries, and 2) it does not address the underlying cause of the problem, which is poorly enforced case practice protocols for out-of-country placements. Prevention of abuse and neglect for children already in foster care requires that we follow the best case practice models and thoroughly assess potential caregivers regardless of where the family may live.

The prevention of child abuse and neglect is complex and ever-changing. The challenges faced by parents, step-parents, and other adult caregivers are constantly shifting in the face of multifaceted social and economic problems. The current opioid epidemic, for example, has caused a dramatic increase in the number of children taken into the care of social service agencies due to abuse and/or neglect. Likewise, there is a growing number of children in foster care because their parent(s) are the subject of immigration enforcement.

As the number of children who are taken into the care of public child welfare agencies continues to grow and resources, especially foster families, dwindle; case workers must expand their thinking about where to find, and how to engage family members outside the United States in the permanency planning process. These family members may be in the military, retired abroad, working for a multi-national firm, or they may be foreign members of the child’s extended family.

These families have the same right to be considered for inclusion in the permanency planning process and for placement as a family member living in America. But, like any placement option, families living outside of the U.S. must be assessed in the very same manner as a U.S.-based family would be. While there is no guarantee that home studies, background checks, and other pre-placement assessments will uncover every potential abuser, it is essential that they are conducted for the safety of the child.

In 2017, International Social Service-USA conducted 150 home studies, 40 child welfare checks, and 67 post-placements, serving 325 children.

An Interview With International Social Service Contractor Laura Rinck, LCSW

In honor of Social Work Month 2018, International Social Service, USA is celebrating our social workers and social work contractors! We recently interviewed Ms. Laura Rinck, LMSW [pictured left] about her experience as a social work contractor in our global network. Laura is an Education Advocacy Social Worker for Legal Services of New York City as well as a private therapist for Silver Lake Psychotherapy.

1. What do you love about being a licensed social worker?
“The best part of my work is the opportunity to hear someone’s story and join with them in their journey. There’s a quote I love: ‘be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is facing their own battle.’ I think that’s the unspoken dialogue in social work.”

2. What are the greatest challenges you currently face as a licensed social worker?
“This is a time of transition. That means we are seeing some painful and challenging barriers that we believed were unthinkable in 2018. That’s sad to me. But that also means individuals are galvanized and neutrality is not an option. We’re seeing more people than ever finding a voice in social justice, which is exciting.”

3. What do you love about working with International Social Service, USA?
“ISS bridges a gap between countries and often continents and empowers a network that enables the most fair and just environment. Acting as a piece of this puzzle is an awesome experience.”

4 Ways Social Service Providers Can Help Separated Families Following the Termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

Over the 93-year history of the International Social Service network, we have witnessed numerous shifts in immigration policy, often causing the separation of families across international borders. Throughout these shifts, we have maintained our focus on reconnecting children and families separated across borders to needed social services by keeping the best interest of the child at the center of our decision making. The recent termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvadorans is one example of an immigration policy that will disrupt families and require us to implement repatriation and reintegration procedures for families being returned.

TPS was first granted in 2001 to citizens of El Salvador living in the US. Today, U.S.-born children of Salvadoran TPS holders range from zero to 17 years old and now we’re left asking, what will happen to the thousands of them when their caregivers lose their legal status? What about the outcome for those families choosing to stay together and returning to a country they haven’t seen in years or decades? These are questions that must be addressed by social workers and child welfare organizations in order to meet the needs of children and families facing troublesome situations.

While some children and youth may choose to stay in the U.S. to continue their education, they risk losing the stability of parental care that is crucial to academic success. Relatives or other caregivers will be asked to take on the financial and care taking responsibilities of additional children, straining already limited resources. Without additional supports, some children and youth will lose the security that fosters the ongoing development of positive social and emotional skills. This increases the risk of children entering into the U.S. child welfare system.

Families returning to the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are facing immense challenges ranging from economic security, neighborhood safety, integration into schools, integration into the workforce, accessing medical systems, and adjusting to community life in an unfamiliar place. ISS-USA has seen an increase in requests for services in the Northern Triangle as returning parents seek custody of their children in the U.S., and as state child protection agencies encounter children with deported parents. By working with government and non-government partners in El Salvador and elsewhere in the region, ISS-USA helps these families reconnect in a way that is safe, well-planned, and sustainable.

One example of the services ISS-USA provides for separated families is through brothers Joaquin and Nicolas, who were born in the US. Their father, a Mexican citizen, facing fears of deportation and fewer work opportunities decided to relocate to Mexico ahead of what he fears is imminent deportation. He left the boys in the care of their mother, who had a history of substance abuse. Soon after their father left, Joaquin and Nicolas were taken into care due to neglect and abuse from their mother who had returned to using. ISS-USA helped contact the father and arrange for a home study in Mexico, where he found work at a factory where his English skills have proven to be an asset. Joaquin and Nicolas were returned to their father’s care, are enrolled in school, and are adjusting well to their new home.

Like Joaquin and Nicolas, children and families need social service help on both sides of the border to plan their return and access needed services upon arrival. Here are four ways social workers and social service providers can support families in this situation:

1) Help identify families at risk of separation and support their access to reliable, up to date information to help them create a plan for a disruption. This includes assigning temporary custody in the event of detention or deportation.

2) In the event that children are taken into protective custody following the detention or deportation of a parent, social workers can help identify family resources both domestically and internationally to support permanency planning in the best interest of the child. The ISS network regularly locates and notifies family members overseas when a child is taken into care and helps engage them in permanency planning. Deported or non-custodial parents have a right to participate in permanency planning of their children, including requesting placement with them in their country of return as part of concurrent planning.

3) Ensure the homes and caretakers to whom children will be placed are safe and appropriate, and there are mechanisms in place to support the long term integration into family and community life. ISS partners help identify schools, medical facilities, behavioral and mental health providers, and other community resources to which the child (and family) would re-locate. Assessments conducted by local social workers provide US judges and family courts with child-specific information to make informed decisions.

4) Support family reunification and reintegration through ongoing case management and communication with service providers in the country of departure and the country of arrival. ISS partners can help connect families to resources in their local communities to sustain placement and prevent further separation.

As advocates, we can demonstrate the reasons why extending TPS is a good for children, families, and communities but as social service providers, we must be prepared to accompany families as they make difficult decisions without imposing our own assumptions. By ignoring the reality of many forced returns or dismissing a voluntary decision to rejoin family, we are missing an opportunity to protect thousands of children.

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.

Assisting Vulnerable Children on World Mental Health Day 2017

In recognition of World Mental Health Day, we want to address the issue of protecting and supporting the emotional and psycho-social well-being of all children. Recently, there have been numerous incidents and situations placing vulnerable children in untenable situations that are a direct threat to their emotional and mental health. While children are remarkably resilient, they are not immune to emotional upheaval, and failing to address issues caused by this upheaval will only contribute to further generations of unresolved trauma and pain. When children’s psycho-social needs are not addressed in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event or when there are untreated on-going stressors in the child’s life, we run the risk of the child never fully recovering. The mental health needs of children around the world deserve our attention and willingness to adapt services and treatment models within an ever-changing social and political environment.

Unaccompanied Minors: While the number of children arriving as unaccompanied minors in the United States has decreased, little efforts have been made to provide key services to support the emotional well-being of those who are here. A narrow focus on the legal needs of these children overshadows the lack of comprehensive psycho-social services to address post-traumatic stress resulting from the arduous journey to the United States, witnessing violence in their homes and communities, separation from supportive family members, and the complicated process of family reunification once in the United States. Legal counsel can review children’s cases to apply for adjustments to immigration status, a process that requires the child to prove abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This frequently means asking young children to recount their traumas multiple times to court officials. It is not enough to secure a visa for children who have experienced violence in their home country, been exposed to violence and trauma during migration, or whose families are too fearful, unable, or unwilling to care for them when they arrive in the United States. Once we acknowledge the trauma these young victims have experienced, we must be held accountable to assist their access to free psychological and social work services.

Children whose parent(s) face deportation: Under the current administration, there is no humane deportation policy in place to protect mixed status families from prolonged, painful separation. The stress on undocumented parents and their children is enormous. These children face being separated from their parent(s), falling into poverty, social isolation, and potential placement in a non-relative foster home or institution. The cruelty of indiscriminate detention and deportation of parents means that their children live in constant fear. Fear of deportation also poses a risk within the home, as parents fearful of detection are at risk of seeking fewer services for themselves, including accessing medical care or mental health support. Children born, raised, and educated in the United States with full citizenship status can be faced with immense guilt around their own privileges and decisions to stay in the United States while their parents and families are deported. These stressors need to be recognized and addressed. There must be far more resources and attention provided to these families to decrease the stress surrounding potential or realized deportations.

Children who have experienced a large scale natural disaster: Millions of children around the world have experienced emotionally devastating natural and man-made disasters in the past years. Whether it is children in Puerto Rico or other Caribbean Islands, witnessing the massive destruction of their own homes and often, their entire islands, is devastating. Additionally, millions of children are still being exposed to war and genocide in Syria, Cambodia, and other conflict-ridden areas of the World. These children suffer from extreme emotional distress. Most importantly, most of these children will not see a quick end to the chaos and upheaval in their lives. They may be without safe housing, clean water, access to healthcare and/or education for many months or years. While we must take care of their most basic needs, we must also find ways to address their on-going psycho-social needs. We need mental health and social service professionals on the ground working with these children and their families so that they can find safe and appropriate ways to express their grief, anxiety, confusion, and insecurity.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health is an essential part of children’s overall health. A child’s emotional state has a complex interactive relationship with their physical health and their ability to succeed in school and in society. It is our responsibility to provide every resource a child needs to grow up to be a happy, active member of their community.

An Overseas Adventure Becomes a Nightmare

Imagine this: You are a U.S. Citizen who moves overseas to start a new adventure with your spouse and four children. That adventure quickly becomes a nightmare when your partner becomes angry and abusive, causing you and your children to flee for safety. Your spouse has control of your finances, leaving you destitute. You need to return to the U.S. to seek safety, but without family or finances to help you, you are scared, alone, and unsure of how to get back.

Now, imagine the added complication of worrying whether you and your children will be allowed to enter the U.S. because you are fleeing from a country on the U.S. travel ban list.

This is the scenario that **Tina and her children faced before being helped by the Repatriation program.

Repatriating Tina Back to the U.S. During the Travel Ban

The U.S. Repatriation program provides assistance to eligible people who are destitute, severely ill, or suffering from psychological disorders and who need to return to the United States. The program is established to help the most vulnerable who have no other resources to do this on their own. Returning U.S. Citizens are expected to pay back their travel and assistance loans as soon as they can. Although the repatriation program can provide assistance in the form of a loan for up to 90 days, many individuals and families are able to become independent within an average of 30 days or less with the help of their case managers.

Samaritas Collaborates to Resettle Tina

Providing cross-border services to vulnerable returning populations is impossible without effective partners in the state where a client is returning. International Social Service-USA, the U.S. repatriation partner of the U.S. government, coordinates services between the sending U.S. consulates overseas and the state appointed partner. In this particular scenario, the partner appointed by the State of Michigan, where our client was returning to, is Samaritas.

Samaritas is the largest refugee resettlement, foster care, and adoption organization in Michigan. “Samaritas has 40 programs in 70 cities across Michigan, making it the second or third largest social service organization in Michigan,” stated Mihaela Mitrofan, Program Manager, New Americans. “With a diverse, multilingual staff of recent as well as born and raised Americans, there is wide coverage across the state and vast expertise working with children, families and adult in a variety of capacities. Samaritas is an ideal repatriation program partner,” stated Julie Gilbert Rosicky, Executive Director.

When Tina and her children were scheduled to arrive in Detroit earlier this year, Samaritas appointed a case manager to meet them at the airport. Because there was some concern about whether this American family would be allowed to enter the U.S. from a Middle Eastern country, International Social Service and Samaritas caseworkers were on standby to do whatever was needed to assist if the family was detained or if the return trip was delayed or rescheduled.

Fortunately, Tina and her children arrived as scheduled and were greeted by a caseworker who also happened to be from the Middle Eastern country from where they were fleeing. She provided them with familiar food as well as warm clothes upon their arrival to help them adjust from a warm climate to Detroit in the dead of winter. Samaritas case workers graciously picked them up in the early evening from the airport and took them to a family shelter, where they stayed temporarily until more permanent arrangements could be made.

Caseworkers Help Tina Acclimate to a New Environment

The caseworker worked with Tina to find employment, counseling for victims of domestic violence, permanent housing, and a school where the children could be enrolled. One of the children had a learning disability, so the case manager helped Tina find local services to address the learning disability. The case manager, having gone through the resettlement process as a former refugee when she was a child, formed an immediate bond with this family, which still continues long after services were concluded. Together, they developed a case management plan to help get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.

See more information about the U.S. Repatriation Program.
See more information about Samaritas here.

**Names and some details have been changed in this account to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the family involved.