Category Archives: Work of ISS-USA

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 question@iss-usa.org and check out our website, iss-usa.org for further information.

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

Alone and Mentally Ill in a Foreign Country: Bringing a Vulnerable Son Home

risky business

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In our work to safely reunite people across borders, we often help vulnerable individuals return to the U.S. from overseas when they are experiencing mental health issues. Navigating life with a mental health condition is difficult. Our cross-border services can help, as they did in Matthew’s case.

A Bright Young Man Suffers From Mental Illness
Matthew, an intelligent, hardworking, and successful young man, got married after college and started a painting business. At 26 years old, Matthew started experiencing delusions and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although he functioned well for several years by taking medication and seeing a doctor, one day, Matthew’s mental health issues worsened to the point where he felt compelled to seek asylum in a foreign country.

The Cross-Border Challenge: Michael Vanishes Without a Trace
Nothing would prepare Matthew’s mother, Raina, and his wife, Sarah, for the day that Matthew went missing. They knew that Matthew had traveled to Washington D.C., but they couldn’t find any evidence of where he went afterwards. They were able to locate Matthew’s abandoned hotel room and truck in the hotel garage, both of which still had his belongings in them. After scanning credit card purchases and having conversations with their friends, the police, and others in D.C., Raina and Sarah deduced that Matthew had flown to Oslo, Norway.

Panic and Uncertainty Across Borders
Raina worked tirelessly to find Matthew and make sure he was okay. The Embassy checked on Matthew, who discovered that the Salvation Army was caring for him but could not convince him to voluntarily receive mental health treatment. Raina was faced with an impossible decision: should she travel alone to Norway to try to persuade Matthew to come home, or should she stay in the U.S. and keep checking on him? Afraid that seeing her might further escalate Michael’s already fragile state, she chose to remain in the U.S. and monitor the situation from there. Raina was in frequent contact with the U.S. Consulate and the Salvation Army, who were her allies in keeping tabs on Matthew.

Raina’s voice broke when she described her helplessness and panic after she viewed Matthew’s YouTube videos that he posted while in Norway. “Sometimes they were ok, or just nonsensical, but other times he just seemed to be getting worse and worse.”

Eventually, Matthew had overstayed his visit in Norway. As a U.S. Citizen, the Norwegian government and the U.S. Consulate could set about a chain of events to bring Matthew home through immigration enforcement in Norway.

The U.S. Repatriation Program: Helping Matthew Get Home
International Social Service, a partner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coordinates between consulates overseas and partners in each U.S. state to help destitute and mentally ill U.S. citizens safely return to the U.S. from overseas. Our casework team facilitates communication between countries, coordinates travel, and links people to services such as medical or mental health care, housing, food, and employment, upon their return. When resettled, repatriates are expected to pay back the costs of their return and the costs of services. Most are reintegrated fairly quickly and are back on their feet in an average of 45 days.

“You just have to keep on trying until you get him home. And thank god for all the good people out there that were willing to help”

— Raina

Reintegration: Getting Matthew the Best Possible Care
The consular officer in Oslo and an International Social Service caseworker created a repatriation plan suited to Matthew’s mental health needs. The repatriation team took Raina’s wishes into account; they worked hard to place Matthew in a hospital where he had a treatment history and already knew the doctors and nurses well. Mental health experts in Norway ensured Matthew was stable enough to travel. After arriving in the U.S., Matthew was hospitalized immediately so he could receive psychological care. Raina advocated for Matthew to stay beyond the hospital’s 24-hour period so he could receive thorough treatment that he desperately needed, and eventually, she was able to secure a court order to do so. Raina hopes Matthew will remain stable, but she knows that a relapse is likely. Although the journey home was intensely stressful, Raina is relieved that repatriation services could reunite them and get Matthew the care that he desperately needed.

Easing Uncertainty in Stressful Cross-Border Situations
“Matthew is lucky,” stated the Executive Director of International Social Service, Julie Rosicky. “The U.S. Repatriation Program provides assistance to close to 1,000 people each year. There are many other adults struggling with mental illness that run into trouble in foreign countries, and they don’t have a friend or family member to help them, to advocate on their behalf, or to check on them once they are here. Raina is one extraordinary woman, and her story really touched me. It underscores how important it is for our organization to provide these cross-border services. It’s so daunting to figure out how things work in your own country, let alone a foreign country. But knowing that we can help in these situations and that there are Moms like Raina willing to fight for their children makes our work all the more worthwhile.”
Mental Health Awareness (600 x 314)

We encourage you to view tools and resources to help raise awareness, end stigma, and become informed about mental health issues and risk factors by visiting National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America.

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.

Shame on U.S: The Stalled Ratification of The Convention on the Rights of the Child

As the year comes to an end, we naturally reflect upon all that we have accomplished, and all that we need to continue to strive for. We celebrate our victories and triumphs, no matter how big, or small, they may be. As we look forward to the New Year we commit to working harder to overcome those obstacles that prevent us from being able to fulfill all our goals and objectives. Our agency is no different in that regard.
We have done amazing work to promote the best interest of the child in all our work. We have served a record number of individuals and families through our work with the Repatriation Program, our intercountry case management services and research, training and technical assistance through the Arthur C. Helton Institute. Most importantly we have diligently promoted an open dialogue about children and families separated by international borders that is child centered and child focused. Yet we recognize that there are still formidable barriers to realizing that goal. Foremost among these barriers is the failure of the United States to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): the most important child focused international human rights’ treaty in force today. The United States is one of only three countries in the world (Somalia and South Sudan being the other two) that has not ratified the treaty and where continued staunch opposition to ratification is primarily based on misinformation and fear mongering.

So as the year comes to a close we would like to take this opportunity to talk about why the discussion of the CRC must shift from a misleading dialogue about parental rights to the central issue of the best interest of the child!

The CRC was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and became the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. The Convention was seen as the logical outcome of increasing attention to, and calls for remedies of, human rights violations around the world. The intent of the convention was to ensure that children were not excluded from the most basic of human rights including the right to family, the right to life and the right to be free from discrimination. More importantly, the Convention established the protection of the child’s physical, emotional and individual needs. The CRC was not conceptualized as an instrument for governments to interfere in the family. In fact, it was conceptualized to, in large part, protect the family, and provide crucial supports to families to keep them together. There is nothing in the treaty that implies that parents or legal guardians will be stripped of their authority over the child unless there is a compelling reason due to abuse or neglect. In fact, the role of the parent is noted in at least 19 of the 54 convention articles, and the word parent is mentioned over 30 times in the treaty. The notion that the treaty will prevent a parent from exercising their rights to educate their children, discipline their children, or prevent them from “teaching [their] moral standards” to their children is not only absurd it is factually incorrect. These kinds of claims are used to promote a political agenda that is blatantly anti-family under the guise of preventing the expansion of the “Welfare State.” Article 5 states that:

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

We believe that the danger of the anti-convention rhetoric is that it does, by default, undermine the very spirit of the Convention by moving the dialogue away from a child-centered one to one focused solely on the rights of the parents. This is, of course, the irony of this particular discussion. We cannot promote the best interest of the child because we are spending all our time talking about the adults’ rights. Is this not precisely why we need the Convention: so that the discussion about protecting children is child centered and not adult focused?

We believe that the heart of the CRC is Article 3 that states “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” As we look forward to 2015, ISS-USA will continue to demand that all discussions about protecting and promoting the protection of children and families be framed by this single, monumentally important ideal.

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/)