Category Archives: General

Social Workers Bring Hope – Part 2: The Importance of Investing in Child Protection

Social Work and Silos

In the international child protection field, people tend to work in silos. Some may work on child trafficking, intercountry adoption, or cross-border migration, but all of these topics overlap. Events in Guatemala provide evidence of how content-specific interventions don’t go far enough to address root problems. Three critical events over the past 10 years: the closing of Guatemala’s intercountry adoption program, the influx of unaccompanied children to Mexico and the U.S., and the recent horrific fire at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción – an orphanage in Guatemala, all demonstrate that breaking down silos and investing in a comprehensive child protection system is necessary for future generations of children in Guatemala to survive.

Intercountry Adoption Gone Wrong

Intercountry adoption scandals in Guatemala revealed that many children were being adopted in nefarious ways: some were kidnapped from poor mothers, and others were bought in exchange for large sums of money from families to “voluntarily relinquish” said children. Guatemala then passed new adoption legislation to regulate intercountry adoption, implement safeguards of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, and shut down their intercountry adoption program.

Despite funding assistance to improve domestic and international child welfare and adoption practices, Guatemala’s child protection systems remain mired in inefficiencies. Several years ago, International Social Service-USA experienced firsthand the challenges in the country’s domestic adoption system. We worked on a case that involved several U.S. children in Guatemala’s child protection system who were being considered for placement with an aunt and uncle that lived in the U.S. Unfortunately, a series of court delays and hurdles prolonged a placement decision. Nearly three years later, the children remain in Guatemala’s state care, and their fate is still in the hands of Guatemala’s courts. Intercountry adoption scandals and inefficiencies in family court are just one part of the story.

Child Exodus- Child Migration Influx

humanitarian aid

In 2014, the influx of migrating children from Guatemala and other regions to the U.S. hit an all-time high. This was due in part to the prevalence of violence, child abuse, and neglect, as well as the lack of strong child protection infrastructures. The fixes Guatemala made to their child protection systems in response to the intercountry adoption scandals were not close to enough to protect children overall. Large flows of children have continued since 2014, and addressing root causes of migration remains as critical as ever.

The Harm in Institutional-Based Care

Most recently, the world learned of the horrific fire that claimed the lives of 40 girls who were living in an institution run by the Guatemalan government. What makes this horrifying situation even worse is that some parents had chosen to place their children at this facility. They believed that by doing so, they were protecting them from dangers at home and were preventing their children from the violence that many experience on the journey through Mexico and into the United States.

Invest in Social Work – Across Silos & Borders

Unfortunately, investments in the region typically focus on economic growth, foreign investment, and security rather than social work or child protection.

If social work and child protection became priorities, the Northern Triangle and Mexico regions could build the capacity of their local social work systems. This financial support in the region would mean more children would remain with their families, and fewer children would be killed, abducted, trafficked, abandoned, abused, or flee to the U.S. without documentation.

What would it look like if we invested in social workers and child welfare in Guatemala?

  • Families in danger of breaking apart would be helped, trained, and supervised by a social worker who could coordinate services, cash assistance, or family-based care.
  • Children unable to remain with their families would live with other kin or in foster care, where they would be under the careful and regulated supervision of social workers within an organized child welfare system.
  • The child welfare system would be adequately equipped with lawyers and social workers trained in both domestic and cross-border issues who could make timely decisions in the best interest of children. By arming them with knowledge, they could better protect children from trafficking and promote outcomes in the best interest of the child in intercountry adoption and migration.
  • The number of government institutions would decrease dramatically or disappear entirely. Specialized and well-supervised care facilities would remain for certain children who, even under the best of circumstances, are unable to live in a family because they require extraordinary supervision.
  • Guatemala would have a DNA database to help individuals find their biological relatives in Guatemala and overseas. Social workers could provide appropriate support during and after this process while facilitating searches and reunions.
  • Child protection systems in Guatemala could extend their reach and work with entities worldwide to help children and families separated across borders due to trafficking, migration, adoption or abuse and neglect. International Social Service partners could assist by providing case management and linking people to information, legal support, and social services.

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These different events offer insight into the weaknesses that exist in child protection systems. They also help us understand just how important it is to enhance child protection systems to improve outcomes for all children – whether they are being adopted, living in state care, a victim of human trafficking or migrating to another region.

Social Workers Get things Done, Despite Overwhelming Challenges in Protecting Children

Many recent events have emphasized the need for investment in the social service workforce. My trip to India to participate in the launch of a social work training program was one event that highlighted the importance of this profession and how critical social workers are in making positive changes in child care systems.

India: On the Road to Alternative Care

India children
I recently visited Delhi, India to participate in the International Symposium on Family Strengthening at Jamia Millia Islamia University. This two-day symposium convened professors, social workers, early child development students, and leaders in government and nongovernment sectors who are concerned about protecting children, especially those living outside of family care. The symposium celebrated the inauguration of India’s first National Resource Centre in Foster Care. The Centre is headed by Dr. Meenai, a well-respected social work professor who has a wealth of expertise in the field of child development.

Madhavi, head of the UK-based foster care agency, Liberty Fostering, enthusiastically explained the details of recruiting, screening, and providing ongoing training and support for foster families, as well as the placement of children and the supervision of placements.

I watched the audience pose serious questions such as:

  • How does one deal with foster families that are different castes or religions from the child, the biological family, or the social worker?
  • Could fostering be accepted as a legitimate way to assist vulnerable children, or would there be a stigma associated with it that would prevent families from wanting to get involved?
  • Who and how would we begin to recruit families? Who would be responsible for and supervise them?
  • How could a program like this be funded?
  • Do foster parents get paid to provide care?
  • How would foster care fit into the limited existing child protection framework?

These questions highlighted the perceived challenges of achieving complete child protection systems with a well-functioning foster care component like what Madhavi described based on her work in the UK. These questions also identified how India will need to adapt its current “best practice” models to incorporate the unique challenges that castes, religion, and other cultural nuances pose in the treatment and placement of children and in the development of alternative care solutions.

Limited Options for Children

I also visited a Child Welfare Committee office, which determines outcomes for children who are referred by the police, by a family, or in some cases by a child. In the office, a review panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, educator, special education expert, and lawyer were all discussing different situations with families. That day, I saw two little boys who had been found at a train station who were waiting for their parents to arrive. Another family was there to bring their thirteen year old daughter home, who had run away.

Members of the review panel did their best to understand and assess each child’s unique circumstances, home conditions, and potential risks. Unfortunately, the review panel did not have the capacity to send social workers to visit each child’s home or to gather more information about the child’s home environment. If it was determined that a child should not return home, the only other option was to place the child in institutional-based care. In cases of alleged sexual abuse, girls are often pressured by their families to return home and not press charges, because placing the alleged relative abuser in jail could cause the family to lose their only or major source of income. This experience visiting the Child Welfare Committee Office underscored that in order to develop more family-based care options for children, the system would first need to enhance its ability to evaluate the child’s needs, safety, and placement options when determining if the child should be returned home, placed in a family, or taken to an institutional facility.

Passionate and Dedicated Social Workers Transform Systems of Care

Finally, I had the privilege of visiting the Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care, India, which is led by two incredibly dedicated professionals, Vasundhra, lawyer and Managing Director, and Ian Anand Forber Pratt, National Program Director. Both Vasundhra and Ian’s positions are funded by foreign Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the U.K and U.S. respectively. However, strict laws in India prohibit the use of foreign funding for programming in India, which means Ian and Vasundhra must use their own personal resources for travel, supplies, and other programmatic activities. Despite these obstacles, Ian and Vasundhra are driven by true passion for their mission to develop alternative care throughout India. They both work closely with the government, Jamia Millia Islamia University, other NGOs in India, and global organizations to encourage the development of tools and resources to help India provide alternative care for children who live outside of families. Ian, an adoptee himself from Calcutta, also counsels Indian adoptees and families searching for their origins.

India will face numerous challenges as it seeks to build its child protection infrastructures, including a quickly growing population of children who need protection. However, change is starting with dedicated people and in particular, driven social workers. Dr. Meenai and his colleagues are training future social workers to understand a broader spectrum of care options for children and families. These future social workers will be the ones to build this needed infrastructure.

Similarly, Ian and Vasundhra are making progress to implement stronger child protection systems and family-based care options by developing systems, working with individuals, and collaborating with legal and government stakeholders. Their tasks seem daunting, but developing systems often begins with a small group of individuals who can roll up their sleeves and get things done. Social workers and partners can make lasting change when they have an unlimited passion for, and vision of, a world where children are protected from harm and can grow up in safe, loving families.

Follow our blog to stay tuned about how social workers are changing and will continue to change the fate of children in Guatemala and the U.S.

Lion: A Tale of Intercountry Adoption

In Search of Happier Beginnings and Joyful Endings

What if our number one priority was the well-being of children across the globe?

I recently saw Lion, a film that tells the story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who is separated from his mother, brother and sister in India. Saroo is quickly adopted by an Australian couple and raised in Hobart, Tasmania with his new family. The film touches on topics I’ve been working on for the past 25 years of my career, including in my current position as Executive Director of International Social Service, USA. I was curious to see how realistically Lion would portray these issues.

Lion movie resized

Lion addresses some of the complexities of the intense bonds between biological children and their parents and siblings; between adoptive children and their parents and siblings; and between adoptive and biological families. It also shows how easily children can become separated from their families and how difficult it is to reunite them in countries where child protection infrastructures are in the early stages of development. The film portrays how vulnerable children can be when they are separated from their families through a brief shot of street children trying to find a safe place to sleep, to a shot of those who intend to harm them such as the police and child traffickers, and through depictions of people who are indifferent to lost, hungry, dirty children.

Lion‘s Nod to Intercountry Adoption Challenges

We, as child protection experts, have struggled for decades to figure out how to properly care for children who lack the support and protection of families. Starting In the late 1940s and early 1950s, intercountry adoption evolved into a popular care option; families in countries such the U.S., Canada, Australia and across Europe became eager to adopt children from poor, war-torn, or communist countries including India, Haiti, South Korea, Russia and China, to name a few. The film briefly acknowledges some of the challenges surrounding intercountry adoption. Lion shows the limited methods of searching for family, the reasons why some families choose to adopt, the lack of transparency in sharing medical, mental health and behavior histories of adoptive children, the experience of raising a child with disabilities, and the fear that adoptive families have about their capacity to support their children.

Saroo’s Journey

In Lion, we watch the adorable and brave Saroo (Sunny Pawar) grow up into a seemingly well-adjusted, bright, young man (Dev Patel). Then, we see Saroo fall apart when memories from his early childhood haunt him: he struggles with the reality that he has another family, is confused about his cultural identity and grapples with the fact that he does not know how to find his family and if they are alive or dead. We feel his growing panic, pain, and deep-seated desire “to know.” Any parent who has lost track of his/her child in the grocery store, and any child who has lost his/her parents in a crowd, understands this sense of relentless urgency to reconnect. This must be a fraction of the pain Saroo felt for more than 16 years. We watch this panic paralyze Saroo, alienating him from his friends, girlfriend and family.

What if?

What if Saroo’s mother had enough money to support her family? What if Saroo and his brother and sister attended school? What if Saroo only had to work before or after school near the family’s house? Saroo and his brother would NOT have had to stray so far from home to earn money to help feed his family, and Saroo would never have become separated from his family. Investing in FAMILY STRENGTHENING, by providing cash assistance, employment, parenting training/support and education for children, is critical to prevent family separation and to protect the long-term well-being of children. Unfortunately, very few countries invest enough (if at all) in the full range of family strengthening activities. Countries that do have some of the highest indicators of child well-being. Countries that don’t, including the United States, pay far more for the costly consequences of family separation. This puts children at greater risk of being trafficked, abused, neglected, harmed, and becoming involved with criminal behavior including gangs and terrorist groups in adolescence and adulthood.

How Investing in Child Protection Systems Could Have Changed Saroo’s Life

What if, in addition to family strengthening, we invest in child protection systems that, together with legal systems, provide the framework to care and protect vulnerable children? What if we support the development and enhancement of child protection services, including birth registration, social services, and training for social workers? Then, family separation would be a solvable problem. Building social work capacity to prevent and address consequences of separation is critical to the health and well-being of all children. The ability to work across jurisdictions would better protect the historic numbers of people on the move today who are crossing, or separated by, borders.
Having enhanced child protection systems would enable trained social workers, like those in the International Social Service network, to talk to Saroo, search for his family, and reunite them. Saroo could be linked with reintegration services that would ensure a smooth transition. Social workers could visit him and his family and continue to connect them to the resources they need to keep Saroo safe within his family and community.

While we all like joyful endings, the bottom line is that we need to work much harder on HAPPY BEGINNINGS. It’s wonderful when people reunite after a long separation. But it’s even more wonderful when those bonds are not severed for long or are never severed in the first place.

Stay tuned for updates from my upcoming trip to India to visit my esteemed colleague Ian Anand Forber Pratt, MSW, National Program Director, Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children (India) Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI). While there, I will attend and speak at the National Symposium on Family Strengthening: Deconstructing Alternative Practices in the Current Legislative Framework and learn about the many wonderful ways in which India is developing its child protection systems.

Julie Rosicky, Executive Director
International Social Service, USA Branch Inc.

11 Key Takeaways from The Ties That Bind

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The key finding of the 6th annual International Social Service conference is that we have failed to do our due diligence in protecting children in our country. Through the creation of benign euphemisms, we have trivialized key circumstances that threaten the safety, well-being and permanency of children within our borders. We have emphasized the rights of parents and other adults at the expense of protecting our kids.

The growing problem of parents abducting their children is not called kidnapping, or treated as a violent crime against children. We call the abandonment of adopted children “re-homing” and fail to prosecute it as a crime. The advancement of reproductive technologies has placed primacy on the prospective parents’ rights to produce a biologically-related child with no thought given to the product of these technologies; the child. Finally, we have created a parallel, and less useful, child protection system for children who enter our borders without appropriate adult care. The result is that unaccompanied children do not get the same protection and care as our citizen children and are at great risk for violence, trafficking and deportation without adequate pre- and post-arrival services.

The key issues and actions that must be addressed by the next administration include:

  1. Create a National Resource Center on Cross-Border Child Protection that will provide technical assistance and training for judicial and legal stakeholders as well as public and private child/family services providers on best practices in child protection/welfare cases that have a cross-border dimension.
  2. Support the creation and passage of a Federal law that defines the re-homing of adopted children as child abandonment and includes strong penalties for perpetrators.
  3. Support the creation and passage of new laws to protect the rights of children who are the product of Assisted Reproductive Technologies including surrogacy, donor conception and embryo adoption.
  4. Mandate donor registration on a National Donor Registry.
  5. Develop, and financially support, repatriation and reintegration programs for children and families removed from the U.S. through immigration enforcement.
  6. Invest in upgrading The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) to include child outcomes both for children within the U.S. and for children who are placed with relatives overseas. States must comply with reporting requirements, and there should be penalties for states who who refuse to comply with these requirements.
  7. Advocate for consistent home study assessment standards to ensure all children, including unaccompanied children being placed with sponsors, foster children, children placed in kinship care, and children placed with relatives overseas, are placed in homes that have been thoroughly and properly vetted.
  8. Increase funding for family-based services to prepare adoptive, foster or kinship families, and international sponsors for parenting children. Create support services for families to prevent or appropriately address disruptions and prepare for reunification after extended separations.
  9. Create stronger exit controls to prevent parental child abduction.
  10. Invest in enhanced parental child abduction prevention programs.
  11. Advocate that states create statutes to treat parental child abduction with the same urgency as stranger abductions.

Parental Abduction & National Missing Children’s Day

In April, I was honored to be asked to present at the I Stand Parent Network in Washington, D.C. The network is composed of left-behind parents whose children have been internationally abducted by the other parent. The organization is both a support for these parents as well as an active voice of change and advocacy for children and left-behind parents. My presentation was the last one of the day, so I had the opportunity to watch presentations from federal agencies and individual legal counsel on a variety of topics. There was a heavy presence of legal and governmental representatives, attesting to the fact that the conversation around abduction is often relegated to the court room.

These parents have done everything they can to follow the available legal options to have their children legally returned under international treaties or bi-lateral agreements. Every single one of these parents has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to try and find a way to have their children returned. Some have issued arrest warrants for the abducting parent in the event the abductor voluntarily returns to the U.S. Some have extradition orders in place in the country where the abducting parent is living. Some have agreed to mediation. But far too many have never received the necessary legal advice to proceed with their case in an informed manner. There are too few attorneys who are knowledgeable about these cases, and many parents have received incorrect legal advice. Parents often unwittingly participate in foreign custody hearings thinking they are being cooperative, only to have their parental rights terminated and to receive a legally binding court order of custody preventing them from moving forward with their case.

No one parent’s story mirrors another. Each abduction and/or denial of access is unique in its tragedy. As I spent time with the parents and listened to their stories, I was surprised by so much of it. I was surprised to discover how many fathers are the abductors. I was shocked at the means by which the abducting parents obtained travel documents to get the child out of the country. I was appalled at the impotence of the legal system to enforce international treaties and conventions. But what surprised me most was how incredibly strong each and every one of those parents was. It is an unimaginable tragedy to have your child kidnapped by the one other person in that child’s life who should care the most for him or her. Even worse is the almost universal occurrence of parental alienation, as the child’s abductor weaves stories of abandonment to prevent the child from wanting to reach out to the left-behind parent. May 25th is National Missing Children’s Day. To learn more about parentally abducted children, visit Return us Home.

ISS-USA’s Regional Conference in Guatemala

Coordinated Cross-Border Social Services for Children and Families Migrating in the Northern Triangle, Mexico and the U.S.

April 28-29, 2016 ~ Antigua, Guatemala

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Thanks to the generous support from our project donor, ISS-USA hosted an international meeting in Antigua, Guatemala entitled “Coordinated Cross-Border Social Services for Children and Families Migrating in the Northern Triangle, Mexico and the United States.”
The regional conference, which was originally conceived as a training for new and existing ISS partners in the Northern Triangle, grew into a platform for participants from five countries representing government, civil society, advocacy groups and academia to generate a dialogue around needs and solutions for cross-border child welfare and social services.

The second day of the conference was an opportunity for the group to discuss and define outstanding questions and concerns, which included both logistical questions around protocols and managing complex cases as well as the need for a coordinated network of child welfare professionals. Suggestions included defining roles and responsibilities within a multidisciplinary network, and working towards an integrated prevention, intervention and rights-based approach for protection.

Participants also articulated goals to address the outstanding concerns. Goals included creating a stronger feedback loop among stakeholders to help enforce protocols, incorporating more government and civil society actors to strengthen the network of providers, and working as a network to understand cross-border differences and similarities in protocols to assess opportunities for sharing and collaboration.

We ended the conference by generating a list of action steps and individual commitments to move towards a coordinated network for cross-border services. Participants proposed creating national coalitions with consistent communication mechanisms as well as conducting outreach among government and civil society actors in order to build strategic partners and allies. Notably, the group committed to maintaining ongoing, cross-border contact with conference participants and the extended network of stakeholders to guarantee safe repatriation, reunification and reintegration strategies that are viable and collaborative. View the Conference Summary for more information.

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

“Building Community, Building Hope”

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2016

This month, and in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, we acknowledge the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect as well as promoting family strengthening. While much progress has been made over the years, there is still more to be done to protect children from harm.

This month and throughout the year, ISS-USA encourages all individuals and organizations to raise public awareness of child abuse and neglect and recommit efforts and resources to protect children and strengthen families. By equipping parents and caregivers with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to care for their children, we can all play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect in our communities while helping children thrive.

Research shows that promoting protective factors that are present in healthy families is among the most effective ways to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. These factors area:

• Nurturing and attachment
• Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
• Parental resilience
• Social connections
• Concrete supports for parents
• Social and emotional competence of children

In support of these efforts, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, its Child Welfare Information Gateway, the FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, and over 30 National Prevention Partners, have created a resource guide: 2016 Prevention Resource Guide: Building Community, Building Hope. This guide was created primarily to support community-based child abuse prevention professionals who work to prevent child maltreatment and promote well-being.

We encourage you to share child abuse and neglect prevention strategies, activities, and resources, which are compiled from various entities below:

Tip sheets for parents & caregivers
2016 National Conference on Child Abuse & Neglect
Child Welfare.Gov’s Resources
Get involved in your own community

To learn about what ISS-USA is doing to prevent abuses and protect children and families in Central America, read about our upcoming regional training in Central America. You can also help us protect children and strengthen families by Donating to ISS-USA. Donations help support case managers in providing key social services to protect children, such as home studies, child protection alerts, child welfare checks, relative tracings, and more.

National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

CECANF’s Recent Report Outlines Recommendations to Prevent Child Abuse

Recently, the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) released its final report: Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. CECANF is a federal agency established by legislation to study and make recommendations on eliminating child abuse and neglect fatalities. Over the course of two years, CECANF reviewed issues related to child abuse and neglect, and heard testimony from researchers, government leaders, and public and private organizations in the field of child welfare.

Within Our Reach outlines a proactive approach to child safety by emphasizing stronger collaboration among relevant agencies, more informed decision-making based on better data and resources, and a public health approach that reiterates the importance of prevention.

CECANF photo

We hope this report is thoughtfully acknowledged by state and local policymakers. While disagreements may arise surrounding methods and approaches to implement these recommendations, one fact remains the same: we should not accept fatalities as inevitable. Any preventable deaths of children should not be pushed aside. The report notes that if nothing changes in an approach to prevent child abuse and neglect fatalities, between 1,500 and 3,000 U.S. children will die from maltreatment in 2016, 2017, and beyond. The awful fact that an estimated four to eight children a day die from abuse or neglect is unacceptable. We hope that this public health-focused approach paves the way for future changes, prevents crises from occurring, and increases protection and support for vulnerable children.

Continue reading about the report’s key findings.

Understanding the Refugee Crisis

Stay Informed and Welcome Others

In light of the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, there have been varied reactions to the way countries address the influx of refugees, ranging from acceptance, to fear, hostility, and significant backlash.

As an organization that has a 90-year history of serving vulnerable populations that include refugees and migrants from a variety of countries, ISS-USA believes that refugees should be welcomed and helped rather than feared and discriminated against. It is often due to reasons related to violence, persecution, and terrorism that refugees are forced to flee their home countries and try to find a safe place for themselves and their families.

It is the responsibility of individuals to stay informed about the current refugee crisis and understand the complicated process by which refugees are resettled into another country.

We would like to arm our readers with resources by other experts in the field that address these topics in order to adequately understand these issues, create positive outcomes, and ultimately welcome others whose lives have been disrupted by violence and persecution.

• According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), up to 700,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea alone this year. More than half of them — an estimated 53% — are from Syria.
UNHCR published a Global Trends Report and this series of infographics through its UNHCR Innovation division, demonstrating the scale of the global displacement crisis.
• Lutheran Services in Georgia helps us understand how we should respond to the refugee crisis in light of the recent attacks in Paris & Beirut in this post .
• Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) produced a variety of helpful tools, articles, and infographics such as the one below to help us understand the refugee crisis in Syria, including this helpful Fact Sheet.
International Rescue Committee disbanded various myths that endanger refugees in this post.
lirs syrian crisis
lirs myth pic
While the attention now is on refugees in Europe, we can still help here in the U.S. by staying informed, welcoming others, and giving back to organizations who are advocating for, and providing humanitarian aid to, refugees.

We Never Outgrow the Need for a Family

ISS-USA Reflects on National Adoption Month with Thomas Waterfield

November is National Adoption Month: a time to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families for thousands of children in the U.S. waiting for permanent families. This November, National Adoption Month sheds light on the critical need for finding families for older youth. More than 20,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system every year without ever having found a permanent family. For more information on National Adoption Month, please see the Children’s Bureau’s Adoption Month page.

There is no specific day or month dedicated to intercountry adoption, yet there are millions of children around the world living without the care and protection of a family. We believe that our work is not done until every child is reunited with a family whose only goal is the safety and well-being of that child. It matters not where that family is from, nor whether they are biologically related to the child. If it is in the child’s best interest to be placed with a particular family, then all necessary steps must be taken to ensure that the placement occurs. It is the right of every child to have a family, and domestic and intercountry adoption are two ways to promote and protect that right.

ISS-USA became involved with intercountry adoption in the 1940s but substantially decreased its involvement through the 70’s and beyond. Yet, ISS-USA remains linked to the past through our archived adoption records and requests for assistance to find and connect adoptees to their biological families. At our recent 90th Anniversary celebration, we were honored to meet the grandson of the Hollywood icon, Jane Russell. Ajaye and his wife, Taylor, attended our 90th Event on behalf of his family, and in particular on behalf of Thomas Waterfield, Ajaye’s Dad, who was adopted by Russell in 1951.
jane russell
Thomas was 15 months old in 1951 when Russell and her husband, Bob Waterfield, former Los Angeles Rams NFL star, adopted him. Thomas’ biological mother, Hannah Kavanagh, was living in London at the time and wanted to give her son a better life. Her family was living in deep poverty, and Hannah wanted better for her son. Hannah’s family migrated from Scotland to Ireland. They barely survived living in Northern Ireland, as they were living in extreme poverty with limited access to food and other basic necessities. Hannah eventually met her husband near Galway, Ireland, and together they immigrated to London. It was while the Kavanaghs were in London that Hannah read about Jane Russell’s scheduled command performances for the Queen of England. Hannah reached out to Jane Russell by letter, and the two met to arrange the informal adoption of Thomas. Jane Russell went on to establish her own adoption foundation to help orphans around the world find homes. This organization, the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), was initially the international adoption and fundraising branch of ISS-USA. While ISS-USA’s focus shifted and the organizations parted ways to focus on their respective missions, their history is intertwined.

Thomas is now a musician living in Arizona. He has been back to Ireland on many occasions to visit his biological family and plans to return to Ireland in the next year. He hopes to release a book later in 2016 detailing his life and family’s involvement in the field of intercountry adoption.

While ISS, in most parts of the world, is no longer involved directly with intercountry adoption, we continue to advocate for adoptees, biological family members, and international treaties designed to protect children outside of the care of their families. The work of the ISS Federation has been central to the development of best practices in intercountry adoption and to the drafting of guidelines on alternative care measures for children separated from their biological families. ISS-USA, and many of our partners around the world provide information and technical assistance to key stakeholders in the domestic and intercountry adoption process. It is our hope that each and every child has the opportunity to find a permanent family either at home or abroad. To learn more please visit www.iss-usa.org and www.iss-ssi.org.