Tag Archives: Child Protection

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.

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.

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.

children

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 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.

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.

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.