Tag Archives: child welfare

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.

11 Key Takeaways from The Ties That Bind

iss-conference-logo-txt-high

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.

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.

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.

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.