Category Archives: General

Successful Family Reunification Takes Preparation and Hard Work

June marks National Reunification Month, a time when agencies are celebrating successful efforts to reunify children with their families. It’s widely recognized that whenever possible and safe, the best home for a child is with his or her family. International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) believes this is true regardless of where the family resides.

At ISS-USA, intercountry case managers work to reunite US-born children with relatives in other countries, foreign-born children with relatives in the US, and immigrant children separated from their families during a migration. ISS-USA also supports efforts to reunify children with a parent in another state.

While these reunifications are important to celebrate, it is worth noting the process and hard work the reunification entails. Often when a child enters the child welfare system, efforts to identify, assess, and reunite with family require communication and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, including across state and country borders. Here is an example of this process from a case ISS-USA worked on:

Anya was 7 year old in the care of the Portuguese social service system. Her father, a US citizen, was living in New Jersey with his parents. ISS-USA conducted a home study with him to make sure his home was safe and helped him obtain court-ordered drug testing and a psychological evaluation. The case worker also conducted a community resource assessment, highlighting local area resources that would help Anya acclimate to her new home. Upon receiving a positive report, the Portuguese court granted custody to Anya’s father and he flew to Portugal to bring her home. Once back in New Jersey, Anya and her father received visits from the social worker every over month to make sure she was adapting well to her new environment.

For children separated from family at the US border with Mexico, reunification is often carried out without any preparation and little notice. ISS-USA has been awarded funds to support the pre-departure planning and reunification of children with their families in Guatemala and Honduras. Here is an example of a case in which a child was separated from her father at the border:

Rosalie was six years old when she traveled from Guatemala with her father to the US, but they were separated at the border and he was immediately deported. A pro-bono attorney working on Rosalie’s case referred her family to ISS-USA for safe repatriation planning. A local social worker visited Rosalie’s family to understand their situation and needs. On the day Rosalie returned to Guatemala, the social worker supported the cost of travel from their rural community to the airport and worked with local officials to ensure Rosalie would be released to her parents. A week later, the social worker traveled to their home to bring essential items, including school uniforms and supplies. She enrolled Rosalie and her younger brother in school, helped them get check-ups at a local clinic, and helped their father with a career transition. Six months later, the family reported feeling thankful and supported.

Celebrating reunification means celebrating the efforts that parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other fictive kin who care deeply for children must undertake to achieve reunification. Whether it’s participating in family-based interventions to allow for a child to safely remain with his or her caregiver, undergoing a variety interviews and assessments, or attending multiple court hearings in a different time zone or language, reunification can be a long, invasive and often expensive process. This month we honor all those who are working tirelessly to give children permanent homes with family.

To learn more about ISS-USA or to refer a case, visit our website www.iss-usa.org.

What if International Social Service, USA Ceased to Exist?

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?[i]

In 1946, George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the film, It’s A Wonderful Life, contemplates ending his life as he faces enormous struggles to save his family and community. He is given the opportunity to look at the life his family and friends would have had if he not been born. He realizes that, despite feeling inadequate and despondent, the things he had done throughout his life had, in fact, made life better for many people.

Loosely based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the film allows us to take a moment and reflect on what we have done over the course of our lives that has been of benefit to others. This is true of both individuals and organizations. So we ask, what would be different for the tens of thousands of children and families International Social Service (ISS) and ISS-USA have served since 1926, if we did not exist?

If ISS-USA did not exist, children we have served would not have been connected to their families or moved to permanency. These children would have stayed in foster care or institutional care and aged out without ever having had a permanent family. This would have increased the likelihood that they would end up homeless, addicted, or the victims of a violent crime.

Children who are repatriating to their home country would not have a plan in place to safely reintegrate into their family and communities. These children would be at greater risk for being trafficked, forced into work without pay, or sexual exploitation. Their families would not have been connected to services that can support their safety and well-being.

Adult international adoptees would not have found and connected with their biological families, leading to feelings of loss and grief, problems with developing an identity, reduced self-esteem and self-confidence, increased risk of substance abuse, and higher rates of mental health disorders, such as depression and PTSD. [ii]

More than 4000 judges, lawyers, social workers, and other child advocates would not have been trained on responsibilities and best practices in international child protection under federal and international laws. This would have meant that these key stakeholders in child protection might not have made the correct decisions in each child’s best interest.

ISS-USA has been, for nearly 95 years, providing cross border case management to any child or family in need of services. We know our work has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families and we will continue to work to ensure that no child is separated from her family longer than is necessary.

While things are very different today than they were a few months ago, ISS-USA has developed new and creative ways to make sure we can continue to support our clients and the children and families they represent.

To support ISS-USA on Giving Tuesday Now (May 5, 2020), visit our website, www.iss-usa.org.

Notes:

[i] It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed by Frank Capra, performances by James Stewart and Henry Travers, RKO Radio Pictures, 1946.

[ii] https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/what-problems-do-adopted-adults-have/

ISS-USA Interns Visit Geneva: Photoblog

ISS-USA interns Alanna Hays (left) and Ema Makas (right) traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in December. During their time there, they visited with International Social Service’s CEO, Secretary General, Jean Ayoub (center). “ISS Geneva, the General Secretariat, is the central link for 20 branch offices and affiliated bureaus and over 100 correspondent countries.”

Makas and Hays participated in a United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) meeting titled, “Consultation on Housing for Migrant & Refugees Publication, Geneva.” The purpose of the meeting was to collaborate and offer recommendations on the provision of housing to incoming migrants and refugees.

Makas and Hays also attended United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees‘ (UNHCR) Global Refugee Forum. The forum served as an opportunity to translate the principle of international responsibility-sharing into concrete action.

 

 

They participated in an event hosted by the Lego Foundation and personally wrote letters of hope to refugee children. In addition, they visited the Srebrenica monument to pay their respects to the lives lost during the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995.

Hays’ (left) research concentrates on refugees and migration. Makas’ (right) research concentrates on human rights and international law. Both are graduate students of the Global Affairs and Human Security program at the University of Baltimore. 

To learn more about ISS-USA or donate to assist vulnerable cross border families, visit our website, www.iss-usa.org.

Why Attending a Conference is Still Valuable

As we count down the days to our 7th annual conference, “Beyond Separation: Protecting Cross Border Families” – co-hosted with the University of Maryland School of Social Work from Thursday, October 17th through Friday, October 18th – we asked ourselves a question: with all the free information readily available to us online, what benefits does the professional conference offer? The answer is that in-person events like conferences and workshops and lunch & learns still provide a unique learning experience and career opportunities that you can’t find online.

Here are our top three reasons why attending a conference is still a great professional move:

1. Networking:
Social media is a great way to stay connected with peers from both near and far, however there’s no substitution for face-to-face networking. Statistics have shown that 85% of all jobs are filled through networking, and that nearly 100% of people say that face-to-face meetings are essential for maintaining long-term business relationships. Conferences bring professionals from a wide range of backgrounds with a common discipline or field together, providing an invaluable opportunity to meet new working professionals in your field, strengthen your connections with those you already know, and to share your unique knowledge and experiences.

2. Expand your knowledge
The internet is full to the brim of new ideas, with more content being added every minute of every day. On one hand, there is more information widely available than ever before – however the constant deluge can be overwhelming and hard to keep track of and implement. Professional conferences offer workshops, seminars, and sessions, bringing together top experts in the field to help contextualize this information, improve your understanding, curate new ideas for implementation. Attending a conference and learning about the latest trends and how they’re being used from professionals at the forefront of your industry adds to your knowledge base and gives you something valuable to apply to your own work.

3. Be inspired
It’s true that the internet is an amazing resource, but too much time sitting at a computer behind your desk can make even the most interesting work seem stale after a while. Attending a conference is a great way to learn about new initiatives, gain fresh perspective, and reignite your passion for the important work you do every day!

As a unique convergence of networking, learning, and fun in one package, conferences offer an opportunity to enhance your personal and professional development, while providing you with tools and skills that cannot be learned online. Conferences are a great way to invest in yourself and your career because they give you an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

What is Case Management?

Earlier this month, the ISS-USA office moved to a new building. Anyone who has experienced the stress of an office move can relate: finding a new space, hiring movers, setting up the internet, and so many additional elements must be coordinated!

Luckily, ISS-USA employs many case managers who are experts in coordination.

Case management and social work have been linked since the early days of the profession. Today, case management is a skill set primarily practiced in fields of social work, nursing and other human services, and is commonly used to address needs of vulnerable populations. There are numerous definitions for case management, in both the U.S. and international contexts. Definitions of Case Management all include a few basic tenets:

Improving well-being:
The goal in case management is to improve outcomes for individuals or families by connecting them to services and supports that meet their individual needs. This may be related to dealing with an illness or injury, ensuring a child in foster care is cared for while awaiting permanency, or supporting individuals with substance use and mental health issues.

Case-specific:
While the ultimate goal in case management is improved wellbeing, the route to get there looks different for each person. One patient with a chronic illness may need support with medication management and affordable housing. Another patient may need help accessing reliable medical care, managing bills, and finding daycare for her dependent children. Goals are set by based on the individual receiving support, and plans to achieve these goals require that person’s active involvement and buy-in.

Multiple Service:
Since every case plan looks different based on individual needs and goals, case managers cannot provide each needed service directly. Rather, they work with service providers across a variety of disciplines to coordinate referrals, appointments, services, and follow up. For many, interrelated issues such as medical care, housing, and substance abuse cannot be addressed by a single entity. Having a single case manager to serve as the contact person helps ensure each need is addressed with timely follow up and coordination.

At ISS-USA, case management follows the same basic principles when working on cases of children and vulnerable adults crossing international borders. Case managers are responsible for understanding the unique needs of each case and coordinating services between authorities and providers in two countries or states.

For example, six year old Melissa, a client of ISS-USA, was taken into care in Israel as a result of signs of neglect by her mother. Her father lived with her grandparents in Michigan and requested custody of his daughter. The ISS-USA case manager worked with our partner in Israel to provide the judge a home study on the paternal relatives in Michigan to ensure the home was safe, and a community resource survey to identify the educational, medical, recreational, religious and community supports that would be available to Melissa in the U.S. After a judge granted custody to Melissa’s father, ISS-USA helped coordinate travel and post placement follow up to make sure Melissa is enrolled in school, being followed by a pediatrician and adjusting to her new family environment.

Case managers rarely are rarely in the spotlight, but provide an essential specialization. Next time you are sitting with a family member in the hospital, looking to support a vulnerable child, or simply embarking on a move, think about how much you’d like a case manager on hand.

To learn more about ISS-USA’s services for children and families, visit our website, www.iss-usa.org. To register for ISS-USA’s upcoming October conference, “Beyond Separation: Protecting Cross Border Families,” use this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-separation-protecting-cross-border-families-two-day-conference-with-training-institute-tickets-63113700778.

National Foster Care Month: Bias as a Barrier to Placement

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to reflect on how to better serve the tens of thousands of children in our child welfare system.

A quarter of all children in the U.S. have at least one immigrant parent. Some of these children will end up in our state systems for far too long, while their overseas relatives struggle to be involved in their future permanency planning. After an International Social Service – USA (ISS-USA) training for family court judges, 72% of the judges reported having more children in their caseload with international family connections than they previously believed, indicating an inherent bias around which children should be screened for overseas family.

Reflecting on barriers to overseas placements, a recent ISS-USA social work trainee wrote, “I keep being told the child needs to be returned [to their country of origin] but I question if it was appropriate due to the country’s safety issues.” This sentiment captures the balancing act we at ISS-USA face in our daily work: the mandate of child welfare professionals to keep kids safe, best practice which prioritizes family placement, and national preconceptions about life and conditions in foreign countries. What does it mean to make decisions in the “best interest of a child” if his/her family lives in another country, speaks another language, or can’t travel to the U.S.?

One example is that of Francisco, a 7 year old born in the U.S. His parents are from El Salvador and his mother was deported for a traffic violation in 2015. His father struggled to care for him, leaving him home alone while he worked late. Francisco was taken into care by North Carolina child protection authorities after a neighbor reported the young boy home alone one night.

ISS-USA contacted Francisco’s mother in El Salvador, who wanted to care for her son, but the social workers in North Carolina were worried about sending him there. They had many concerns about whether Francisco’s mother had enough resources to support him, if living in El Salvador was too dangerous for a child, and how many work and educational opportunities Francisco would have as an adult. Despite these concerns, there were no other relatives in the U.S. who were willing to take care of Francisco, so North Carolina requested help assessing Francisco’s mother as a caretaker.

A local social worker in El Salvador visited Francisco’s mother and completed a home study and community resource assessment. While visiting Francisco’s family, the social worker took pictures of the home and community, and reported on area schools, after school programs, social services, and local NGOs. She met with his mother and grandparents, who contribute to household income and expenses. They discussed the family’s commitment to caring for Francisco, reviewed parenting techniques for children who have experienced neglect, and developed plans to help him integrate into a new community and country. After Francisco made three visits to El Salvador to visit with his mother and meet his extended family, a judge granted custody to his mother. He has since been enrolled in school, is receiving speech therapy sessions, plays soccer after school in his neighborhood, and is happy to be living with his mom again.

Francisco, like many of the children ISS-USA serves each year, found a safe, nurturing and permanent home with his family outside of the U.S. Others, including U.S. citizen children, children who are undocumented or have dual citizenship, are ending up in foster care under supervision of care teams who want to protect them from harm, but are wary of placing them in homes that don’t have familiar amenities or comforts. We cannot let our own fears, emotions or preconceived notions dictate decisions to place children with their families. ISS-USA works on close to 500 cases every year involving children separated from their families by borders to ensure child welfare workers, attorneys, child advocates, judges and others have access to information they need to make informed decisions without relying on generalizations or other personal bias.