Author Archives: Felicity Northcott

2018 – A Year in Review

The 2018 ISS-USA staff with three members of the ISS-USA Board of Directors – Mary Mentaberry, Mark Greenberg, and Bill Evans

This is our last blog post of the year, so we would like to take the time to thank our clients, partners, colleagues, board members, and donors as well as highlight some of International Social Service, USA’s accomplishments in 2018:

First, the thank yous. The nature of our cross-border work requires us rely on our international and domestic partners to provide services to children and families. All of our International Social Service (ISS) network partners have been an invaluable resource for us this year. In 2018, we opened more cases than ever before and the quality and professionalism of the case work has allowed us to grow our staff to respond to an increased need for services. Thank you again, ISS network partners, for your kind collegiality, professional standards, and unwavering dedication.

Within the U.S., we rely on a growing network of private social workers to complete assessments for our ISS network partners and interstate cases. These social workers are responsive, supportive, and hard-working. We send our sincere thanks to them.

Thanks to our donors and funders for recognizing the need to support cross-border social services. After receiving a grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, we were able to hire a social worker to assist us in increasing our capacity to repatriate and reintegrate unaccompanied minors in Mexico and the Northern Triangle.

We have also received a grant to provide safe and sustainable repatriation and reintegration services for children being returned to Guatemala. We have formed a new partnership with Escuela De La Calle (EDELAC) in Guatemala to provide the on-going reintegration services to support the families of these children.

Last, but not least, the International Social Service, USA staff and interns deserve a thank you for all of their hard work. A major reason why we are growing our number of state contracts, increasing the number of cases we open, and receiving more grants and conference opportunities than ever before is due to the dedication, quality of work, and responsiveness of our staff. They have all earned their holiday break before jumping in again in 2019.

Moving into 2019, the number of children being separated from their families across international borders will continue to increase as global migration numbers are at a record high. In the U.S., the number of children entering foster care is rising and many of these children are not being connected to their families in another state or country.

It is our sincere hope that in 2019, every social worker, lawyer, GAL, and judge will commit to finding, engaging, and assessing family resources for every child regardless of where that family may be.

As always, International Social Service, USA will be here to help you in that process.

We wish you and yours a very happy holiday season and we look forward to connecting with you again in 2019.

National Adoption Awareness Month: A Happy Story!

ISS-USA is celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month with one of our recent cases that was especially heartwarming.

An ISS-USA Intercountry Case Manager received a request from our partner in Europe regarding a family tracing service. At ages two and three, two brothers were placed for adoption when their drug-dependent mother was unable to care for them. Bryan* was adopted and brought to live in the U.S., while Louis* was adopted by European parents. Forty years later, Louis’ adoptive mother passed away and his adoptive father disclosed that Louis had a brother living in the U.S. This started Louis’ search for Bryan.

When ISS-USA took on the case, the case manager acted as a mediator and Louis and Bryan were able to make a connection. Not only were they shocked to learn of each other’s existence, but surprised to see the resemblance! The ISS-USA staff was thrilled to make this connection between the brothers, and the two are continuing to learn about each other and grow their relationship.

This year’s theme for National Adoption Awareness Month is “In Their Own Words: Lifting Up Youth Voices,” which highlights the needs of older children and children with disabilities in the U.S foster care system. While adoption is beneficial and often supports the best interest of the child, connecting children to their birth connections (when safe and appropriate) is important as well.

Bryan and Louis’ case is touching but not unique, as ISS-USA receives several post-adoption requests for families to trace their biological links each year. Through adoption, both Louis and Bryan were able to grow up in healthy, stable, and nurturing environments that allowed them to search for family connections later in life.

While everyone likes happy endings, child welfare organizations need to work diligently towards a proactive approach for happy beginnings. In 2018, the U.S had 679,191 children entering foster care with an average cost of $6,675 per child. If more funding is put towards family strengthening, it would better protect the long term considerations of children and lower the number of children entering foster care.

For more information about ISS-USA’s services, click here.

*Names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

In Celebration of Kinship Care Month: How to Eliminate Barriers to Overseas Kinship Placements in Three Easy Steps

According to a 2017 article by the American Bar Association (ABA), kinship care in comparison to non-relative foster care is preferable for many reasons. Kinship care, in general, minimizes trauma, improves children’s well-being, increases permanency for children, improves behavioral and mental health outcomes, promotes sibling ties, and can provide a bridge for older youth.

With this knowledge, a number of states have enacted legislation to expand support for grandparent and relative caregivers in order to increase the number of children placed with relatives. Other important steps include: improving licensing requirements/waivers/variances; expanding the definition of relative; and prioritizing and emphasizing relative placement. Currently, one third of all foster children in America are in kinship foster care.

Barriers to this practice include the wide variance for payments to families caring for their relatives along with ineffective family finding case practice models. Unfortunately, these barriers are even more pronounced when the relative in question lives overseas. As a result, overseas placement is an often overlooked solution in regards to kinship placements.

An example of an International Social Service-USA (ISS-USA) case that found resolution through overseas kinship placement is through the story of Maria and Francisco*. When Maria and her brother Francisco were removed from the home of their drug dependent mother in New Jersey, children’s services discovered that their father currently lived in Mexico. After conducting a home study, and a community survey to understand both the home and the community in which the children would potentially be living, a judge in New Jersey ordered the children to return to their father in Mexico. A New Jersey social worker accompanied the children to Mexico, and was met by a local social worker from the community where the children would be living. Together they accompanied the children and their father to their new home and got the children settled. Post placement reports revealed that the children were in school, thriving, re-learning Spanish and getting the medical care they needed.

We at ISS-USA suggest you follow these steps to overseas kinship placements:

1) The first, and simplest step, to help children reunify with kin overseas to is ask the question, “does this child have family outside of the U.S.?” Ask the child or look into it yourself, or find a way to trace for relatives overseas.
2) If the child does have family in another country, the second step is to learn about the community and the home that the child would be living in. Oftentimes we look at a country as a whole and make generalizations or assumptions about safety based on what we hear or see in the news. Get the facts via a home study and a community survey. Keep in mind, there are neighborhoods in the U.S. that you would not send a child, but in fact there are many places that children grow up perfectly safely!
3) Lastly, if you need advice or help as to what to do next, many options exist. Please don’t hesitate to call us and we can explain how to reunify and reintegrate a child with kin in another country. Email us at and check out our website, for further information.

*Names and locations have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and organizations involved

#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.