Category Archives: General

Home for the Holidays: Family Finding for Children in Out of Home Care

Comedian George Burns once quipped, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” As November begins and we move inexorably towards the holidays, and the concomitant stress too often associated with the crush of family, we may think to ourselves that George was right. The ubiquitous stereotype of the family argument after, or even during, the Thanksgiving meal has been the fodder of many a comedy. Unrealistic expectations about the meal, or the décor, or your family feed the fire of discontent and lay the groundwork for disappointment. Alas, these are what are now referred to as “First World Problems:” relatively trivial concerns blown out of proportion when compared to the deep-seated, unrelenting problems faced by those in the developing world. Yet, for children separated from their families it matters not if they live in the “First World” or in a nation in the developing world: the idea that a happy family is across a border they cannot traverse is heartbreaking.
The past 11 months have given us far too many stories of children forcibly separated from their families, and/or their homes. Tens of thousands of children from Central American and Mexico entered the United States without the care or protection of their families. These children faced harrowing journeys led by parasitic coyotes preying on the intransigent poverty and fear of violence in the region and false promises of a “free ride” once the children entered the country. Increased attention to war orphans and children orphaned by disease, famine or other natural disasters has also heightened awareness about children being separated from their families. While these stories bring much needed attention to the problem of children traveling, living or simply surviving outside of the care of their family and garner the sympathy worthy of these tragic circumstances we seem to turn a blind eye to the same suffering and pain of separation experienced by children who are removed by a court from the care of a parent, or parents, because of abuse or neglect in the United States. These children have also been victimized directly by violence, or indirectly by abandonment or neglect. Is the story less tragic because it happened here? Is it less painful for the child that she was taken away by an agency charged with her care and placed in the home of a stranger? Does she not deserve the same rights as any other child to be reunited with her extended family when it is in her best interest?
ISS-USA has been a vocal advocate of family finding and engagement for years. Regardless of the circumstances that have brought a child to become separated from his family we must do better to locate and encourage the participation of his extended family in all plans about the child’s future when it is appropriate. A child who is in immigration proceedings is in as much need of family finding and engagement as a child in foster care. A child in foster care is in as much need of finding and connecting to her extended family as a child in a refugee camp.
We must not continue to make false distinctions about the severity of the circumstances within which a child finds himself as an excuse for, or barrier to, finding his family. It is only when it has been deemed inappropriate because of safety concerns for the child that a family should be excluded from participating in planning for the child’s short- or long-term future. Nor should we continue to administer a dual child welfare system in America that manages the domestic child welfare system differently from the federal system in place for unaccompanied minors.
Best practice in domestic child welfare mandates that every child’s family has the right to be notified when a child comes in to care, and provided with notice of their rights to participate in permanency planning. These same principles must be applied to every single child who comes in to care in our country, even those children who are here without proper immigration documents. No decision about what is in any child’s best interest can be made without input from their family and we must embrace the very broadest notion of what the term family means when we are looking for connections for a child in care.
As journalist Jane Howard said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” And there is no doubt that children need one more than anyone.

The Need for a Child-Focused Social Service Response to the Growing Number of Unaccompanied Children Entering the U.S.

A recent article outlining the Obama administration’s proposed increase in funding to house unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. Mexican border there was not a single mention of the social service needs of these children. The proposed procedure is to “house” children in army, or air force, barracks while “… a search is conducted for family, a sponsor or a foster parent who can care for them through their immigration court hearings, where many will apply for asylum or other special protective status.” Who, precisely, is going to conduct those searches? Who is going to work with the children to identify potential caregivers who are appropriate, safe, and committed to the child’s best interest?
Past case practice in family finding for unaccompanied alien minors, and decisions about when and with whom to place them, has proven to be woefully inadequate. Speed of placement has been the primary factor in deciding with whom to place a child rather than what is in the child’s best interest. With the growing number of unaccompanied children expected to skyrocket this year temporary housing solutions on military bases will not provide any incentive to locate and evaluate for the appropriateness of the potential care givers for these children. The push will be to get the kids out of the temporary placements as quickly as possible to make room for others.
The reason why this plan, like all those before it, will not fulfill its obligation to the vulnerable children it purports to protect is because the United States has not developed a comprehensive social service response to this humanitarian crisis. We have a fiscal response, a legal response, and an immigration response. But we don’t have a child protection response. The fact is that the work that needs to be done to protect these children, to reunite them with appropriate adult guardians, and evaluate what future placement is best for them must be done by trained social workers. There must be a coordinated effort to develop a social work workforce capable of undertaking these tasks.
Domestic social work is just beginning to truly understand the importance of family finding and engagement. We must build the capacity of our child protection social work staff to fully embrace family finding and remind them that these children are going to have family both in the United States and in the countries from where they arrived. It is imperative that family finding, and planning for these children’s future, be a cooperative effort between our domestic child protection system and social service agencies in the children’s countries of origin. There must be an organized cross-border social service response to the increasing number of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. that relies on best practices in child protection and child welfare established by international treaties.
We will not be able protect the vulnerable children entering our country in search of a safer and healthier life by simply increasing the existing funds for an inadequate system. We must increase the capacity of our child protection service system, the system we rely on to protect our own children, to provide services to promote the safety, well-being and permanency of every unaccompanied child crossing our border.

Read the official press release on the White House’s response to this crisis

Welcome to ISS-USA’s Family Routes Blog

Welcome to the International Social Service-USA branch’s blog, Family Routes. Each month we will write a blog post on a topic that is relevant to our work in particular or child welfare and child protection across borders in general. It is our hope that these timely and thoughtful posts will begin to raise awareness of the rapidly growing populations of individuals facing complex circumstances in need of social and legal services across international borders, and provoke discussion about best practice in accomplishing positive outcomes in every case we manage. Family Routes will trace the varying routes families must travel to be together and emphasize the importance of family roots to the well-being of children around the world. Many of the issues that we will be discussing are politically and socially contentious. Debates swirl around much of our daily work including intercountry adoption, international surrogacy, and the rights of parents versus the rights of the child. Regardless of the challenging nature of our discussions we view every case through one simple lens: what is in the child’s best interest. Our role in every journey a child must take to be a part of a permanent, loving and safe home will illustrate best practices in cross border social work and technical expertise. We welcome thoughtful responses to, and comments on, our blog.

90 years ago a group of forward thinking women determined that there was a critical need for social services for migrating families that began before they left their country of origin and continued after they arrived in their new home. The radical notion that coordinated services across international borders might decrease the number of families permanently separated is the hallmark of the work of ISS-USA and the ISS Federation. Today the reasons that children and families become separated are far more complex than our fore-mothers imagined. Our work no longer focuses just on families affected by migration. Nonetheless, the bedrock of the idea still supports our work and the work of the ISS Federation. There is no less need for cross-border social services than there was in 1926. Things have just gotten more complicated. ISS-USA continually searches for innovative and sustainable solutions in the best interest of children. On any given day the ISS-USA case management team handles dozens of cases involving children in need of protection or reunification with their families, adult adoptees searching for their biological families, American citizen children or adults in crisis in a foreign country who need assistance in returning home, and a growing number of requests for technical expertise on a wide range of cross border child welfare and protection issues. Our role is to provide expert assistance following best practices in social work to support outcomes in every individual’s best interest. Each month we will include actual case data to illustrate the issue under discussion.

We look forward to your comments and insights.
(Special thanks to Spearfish Innovation for their expertise in assisting us with naming our new blog. http://spearfishinnovation.com/)

International Surrogacy — Call for Action by the International Social Service Network

Over the last few years, international surrogacy has continued to increase around the world. Today it is estimated that approximately 20,000 children are born through this specific mode of reproduction annually, and the numbers are expected to increase. The ISS global casework load is increasingly dealing with individual surrogacy cases but must work in the absence of a consistent, coordinated legal framework.

While some countries have legalized and codified international surrogacy as an option for reproduction, others have either made the process illegal, or simply failed to provide any legislative guidelines on the practice. In general, on the international level, the issue remains unregulated, creating a situation that paves the way not only for very lucrative business opportunities, but also to potentially worrying activities and practices of intermediary agencies, specialized clinics and candidates for parenthood. Unless international surrogacy is consistently regulated the evident economical imbalance between wealthy prospective parents and an ever growing number of women ready to bear a child for someone else for remuneration, can only lead to abuses.

There have already been several individual cases around the world that have highlighted the potential problems and likely abuses of unregulated reproduction through surrogacy. Furthermore, the rights of children to be born through this practice have not been addressed and the International Social Service (ISS) strongly believes that protecting those children rights must be addressed in both the legal and psycho-social arenas.

Therefore, ISS asserts that international surrogacy is not only a private matter between the prospective parents and the surrogate, but is an issue that must be addressed by the international legal, social service, psycho-social and child advocacy communities.

Furthermore ISS believes that addressing the myriad of questions and concerns raised by the practice of international surrogacy is a matter of great urgency and calls for, among other possible actions the following initial steps:

  • Explore and document existing good practices.
  • Study current practices and trends, including domestic laws, economic impact, a geography of  actors, exploitation of women and protection of children, the bonding of the surrogate parent/s with the child and special situations such as those of disabled children so seriously deformed that they have little life expectancy.
  • Address the concerns of donor conceived persons, and anonymous sperm, egg and embryo donations.
  • Address the citizenship of the donor conceived, or surrogate born children.
  • Create a network wide campaign to advocate in favor of a new General Comment on surrogacy by the UN CRC and a Hague Convention on international surrogacy and donor conceived children.
  • Convene international conferences, gathering State representatives to reach an agreement on the necessity to regulate surrogacy at the international level;

While keeping the best interest of the child as the driving force for all actions it takes, ISS intends in the very near future to work on the following areas related to surrogacy:

  • Utilize the ISS network to be the voice of children born through all forms of artificial reproduction in order to preserve the best interest of those children.
  • Continue to work for the best individual solution for each individual child in his best interest and in the best interest of the involved adults, especially the surrogate mother through casework mandated by national public authorities.
  • Develop and disseminate a special training program for its casework professionals.
  • Share individual casework experience within the ISS network and with relevant external stakeholders with a view to regulate this field in the best interest of the child.
  • Develop an advocacy campaign that will be developed within the frame of calling for a General Comment on surrogacy by the UN CRC and the need for a new Hague convention on surrogacy.

 

Welcome To The ISS-USA Blog

The purpose of this blog is to focus attention on current international child welfare and protection issues by bringing every conversation back to one central point: is this in the best interest of the child involved. Far too often family problems or legal domestic conflicts focus solely on how the adults involved  are affected. The child’s safety, well-being, and best interests are often an after-thought.

ISS-USA has nearly 90 years of experience in international child welfare and protection. We are committed to working in the best interest of the child, even when this may mean stepping on the toes, or emotions, of adults involved in the cases we manage.  Whether the issue is:

  • international adoption

  • parental abduction

  • surrogacy

  • citizenship and immigration

  • custody and visitation

When a child is involved, the most important question that must be asked, and answered, is — Are we protecting the child’s safety, well-being and best interests? If we are not, then we must look outside the box to make sure that we can always answer that question in the affirmative.

This blog will follow current issues affecting international child welfare rights & focus on children separated from their families by international borders. We will always bring attention back to the child.


A NEW DAY
A Reflection on Deann Borshay Leim’s film, In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee

The 1960s were a dark time for intercountry adoptions. Although there were many well-intentioned parties, the absence of regulation and oversight opened the door to a wide range of questionable practices and dishonest behavior.

As Deann Borshay Liem’s film poignantly illustrates, those most frequently hurt were highly vulnerable children. Like all adoptees, these children struggled with issues of identity, love, loss, and belonging – issues that were compounded because their adoptions crossed international borders.

At ISS-USA, we understand these issues because we encounter cases of
international separation every day. Each story is unique, but the common thread is
the brokenness that comes with loss of family, loss of heritage, and loss of connection to the fundamental underpinnings that make us all what we are. No caring person can watch Deann’s film without feelings of sadness, anger and betrayal.

There is good news, however. Much has changed since the 1960s, and I am very proud to report that ISS – through a network of social workers, lawyers, psychologists, mediators and volunteers operating in 120 countries – has been at the center of the groundswell which has fostered meaningful reform and a burgeoning international acceptance of a set of principles and practices that are grounded in defending the best interests of the child. While we handle all types of cases of international separation, our outreach in advocacy and training are making transformative differences.

For more than eight decades, International Social Service (ISS) has been the lead agency practicing and refining intercountry casework. It was founded in 1924 under its original name, the International Migration Service, by representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Poland and Switzerland in response to increased migration from Europe between the 19th and the 20th centuries. Our network gradually expanded to re-establish family links, and protect and defend children deprived or separated of their family across borders. Renamed International Social Service in 1946, we at ISS have provided psychosocial and legal expertise in child and family matters in an international context. To see some of our many success stories, please visit our website or that of our international federation.

Over the years, we have learned a great deal from the people we have served, and have translated that knowledge into providing better services; developing and advocating for best practices; and providing training and capacity building. As a network, we can provide and advocate for the best possible care of children separated from their families across borders around the globe. These efforts are aimed at protecting the rights of the children involved so that situations like those in Korea in the 1960s are not repeated.

One of the tenets of our advocacy work is the Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. As an organization, we were instrumental in shaping, writing and promoting the ratification of the Hague Adoption Convention, a groundbreaking document that guides the protection of the best interests of children involved in intercountry adoptions. According to the Hague Conference on Private Law’s website, there are now 83 countries signed on to this convention – a convention that has transformed intercountry adoption dogma from finding children for families to finding families for children. In the last few years, ISS, through our international offices in Switzerland, has worked closely with states such as Kazakhstan, Viet Nam, Kyrgyzstan and Côte d’Ivoire to reform their intercountry adoption practices and assist them on their path to ratification of the Hague Adoption Convention.

Hague has created many safeguards to protect children throughout the adoption process, including developing central authorities in each country, reducing the likelihood of the abduction, sale and trafficking of children via intercountry adoption, ensuring that children are clearly without family and that no suitable domestic options exist before an intercountry adoption can be finalized, requiring adoption agencies to operate with transparent procedures and to obtain accreditation. Most important in the context of Deann’s film is that the Hague Adoption Convention establishes a strict framework for clearly identifying the origins of the child and establishing his/her adoptability prior to the proposal of an adoption for the child. This is wholly consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which together with Hague Adoption, guides our casework throughout the world.

The ISS General Secretariat International Reference Centre for the Rights of Children Deprived of their Family (IRC) is a division within ISS specifically dedicated to the questions linked to adoption and children without parental care. It is a service-provider for twenty inter-country adoption central authorities in receiving countries, provides its services freely to all central authorities in countries of origin and serves a network of over 3000 professionals worldwide. Through this center, the ISS IRC has developed many important documents with other key stakeholders such as UNICEF and SOS Children’s Villages that promote best practices in the care and protection of children, including the Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children recently approved by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as well as tools for adoption of older children and those with special health needs.

Our advocacy work takes on many forms. When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January, many questions surfaced about international adoptions originating there. ISS had to determine how international standards applied to expediting adoptions already in process. ISS recently released: Expediting inter-country adoptions in the aftermath of a natural disaster … preventing future harm. The report includes a signed Forward written by Mr Hans van Loon, Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. This report examines intercountry adoption practices in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Its principal objective is to identify lessons to be learned from our experiences in Haiti and to provide an objective analysis of the fast-tracking measures implemented against the backdrop of international norms.

Our efforts have also spawned new opportunities to build on the successes of recent years. Just last year, ISS-USA was awarded a Fostering Connections Discretionary Grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. The three-year grant, which exceeds $1.4 million, will fund the work of ISS-USA and its partners in New Jersey to improve permanency placement options for children in the New Jersey foster care system by developing and implementing intensive family finding services for all children who have potential kinship placement outside the United States. It is hoped that the Demonstration Grant will result in more family placement options for children, and a training and best practices model that will be replicated throughout the United States.

We sincerely appreciate the opportunity POV has provided us to bring some additional perspective on international adoptions and the work that we at ISS do. To that end, we invite any adoptee or family member searching for relatives to contact us through our website, by email, question@iss-usa.org or by calling 443-451-1200. We have connected a great number of people by providing information, closure and reunions for people around the globe. We also welcome contact from anyone who would like more information about how to access historical information about ISS for the purpose of scholarly research at the Social Welfare History Archives at The University of Minnesota. The records document a wide range of ISS-USA’s international social services, including services to refugees and migrants and, particularly, international adoptions by families in the United States.

While heart wrenching and sad, Deann’s film will bring important attention and hope to the issues surrounding international adoption. While there is still much work to do, the film underscores how far we have come since the 1960s. We at ISS are gratified that we have played a role in these advances and remain committed to the continued care for the best interests of children.

About The Film
In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee will be broadcast this evening, September 14, 2010 on PBS.  It is the third of POV’s series on adoption, which has included Wo Ai Ni Mommy ( http://www.pbs.org/pov/woainimommy/) and Off and Running ( http://www.pbs.org/pov/offandrunning/).  Check your local listings for the exact time of the broadcast in your area.  The film can be viewed online at (http://www.pbs.org/pov/chajunghee/) from September 15, 2010 through October 15, 2010.

Synopsis
Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the United States in 1966. Told to keep her true identity secret from her new American family, the 8-year-old girl quickly forgot she had ever been anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is the search to find the answers, as acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem (First Person Plural, POV 2000) returns to her native Korea to find her “double,” the mysterious girl whose place she took in America. A co-production of ITVS in association with the Center for Asian American Media and American Documentary/POV.