Tag Archives: family reunification

Successful Family Reunification Takes Preparation and Hard Work

June marks National Reunification Month, a time when agencies are celebrating successful efforts to reunify children with their families. It’s widely recognized that whenever possible and safe, the best home for a child is with his or her family. International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) believes this is true regardless of where the family resides.

At ISS-USA, intercountry case managers work to reunite US-born children with relatives in other countries, foreign-born children with relatives in the US, and immigrant children separated from their families during a migration. ISS-USA also supports efforts to reunify children with a parent in another state.

While these reunifications are important to celebrate, it is worth noting the process and hard work the reunification entails. Often when a child enters the child welfare system, efforts to identify, assess, and reunite with family require communication and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, including across state and country borders. Here is an example of this process from a case ISS-USA worked on:

Anya was 7 year old in the care of the Portuguese social service system. Her father, a US citizen, was living in New Jersey with his parents. ISS-USA conducted a home study with him to make sure his home was safe and helped him obtain court-ordered drug testing and a psychological evaluation. The case worker also conducted a community resource assessment, highlighting local area resources that would help Anya acclimate to her new home. Upon receiving a positive report, the Portuguese court granted custody to Anya’s father and he flew to Portugal to bring her home. Once back in New Jersey, Anya and her father received visits from the social worker every over month to make sure she was adapting well to her new environment.

For children separated from family at the US border with Mexico, reunification is often carried out without any preparation and little notice. ISS-USA has been awarded funds to support the pre-departure planning and reunification of children with their families in Guatemala and Honduras. Here is an example of a case in which a child was separated from her father at the border:

Rosalie was six years old when she traveled from Guatemala with her father to the US, but they were separated at the border and he was immediately deported. A pro-bono attorney working on Rosalie’s case referred her family to ISS-USA for safe repatriation planning. A local social worker visited Rosalie’s family to understand their situation and needs. On the day Rosalie returned to Guatemala, the social worker supported the cost of travel from their rural community to the airport and worked with local officials to ensure Rosalie would be released to her parents. A week later, the social worker traveled to their home to bring essential items, including school uniforms and supplies. She enrolled Rosalie and her younger brother in school, helped them get check-ups at a local clinic, and helped their father with a career transition. Six months later, the family reported feeling thankful and supported.

Celebrating reunification means celebrating the efforts that parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other fictive kin who care deeply for children must undertake to achieve reunification. Whether it’s participating in family-based interventions to allow for a child to safely remain with his or her caregiver, undergoing a variety interviews and assessments, or attending multiple court hearings in a different time zone or language, reunification can be a long, invasive and often expensive process. This month we honor all those who are working tirelessly to give children permanent homes with family.

To learn more about ISS-USA or to refer a case, visit our website www.iss-usa.org.

What if International Social Service, USA Ceased to Exist?

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?[i]

In 1946, George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the film, It’s A Wonderful Life, contemplates ending his life as he faces enormous struggles to save his family and community. He is given the opportunity to look at the life his family and friends would have had if he not been born. He realizes that, despite feeling inadequate and despondent, the things he had done throughout his life had, in fact, made life better for many people.

Loosely based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the film allows us to take a moment and reflect on what we have done over the course of our lives that has been of benefit to others. This is true of both individuals and organizations. So we ask, what would be different for the tens of thousands of children and families International Social Service (ISS) and ISS-USA have served since 1926, if we did not exist?

If ISS-USA did not exist, children we have served would not have been connected to their families or moved to permanency. These children would have stayed in foster care or institutional care and aged out without ever having had a permanent family. This would have increased the likelihood that they would end up homeless, addicted, or the victims of a violent crime.

Children who are repatriating to their home country would not have a plan in place to safely reintegrate into their family and communities. These children would be at greater risk for being trafficked, forced into work without pay, or sexual exploitation. Their families would not have been connected to services that can support their safety and well-being.

Adult international adoptees would not have found and connected with their biological families, leading to feelings of loss and grief, problems with developing an identity, reduced self-esteem and self-confidence, increased risk of substance abuse, and higher rates of mental health disorders, such as depression and PTSD. [ii]

More than 4000 judges, lawyers, social workers, and other child advocates would not have been trained on responsibilities and best practices in international child protection under federal and international laws. This would have meant that these key stakeholders in child protection might not have made the correct decisions in each child’s best interest.

ISS-USA has been, for nearly 95 years, providing cross border case management to any child or family in need of services. We know our work has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families and we will continue to work to ensure that no child is separated from her family longer than is necessary.

While things are very different today than they were a few months ago, ISS-USA has developed new and creative ways to make sure we can continue to support our clients and the children and families they represent.

To support ISS-USA on Giving Tuesday Now (May 5, 2020), visit our website, www.iss-usa.org.

Notes:

[i] It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed by Frank Capra, performances by James Stewart and Henry Travers, RKO Radio Pictures, 1946.

[ii] https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/what-problems-do-adopted-adults-have/

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.

International Social Service Celebrates World NGO Day 2019

ISS-USA is celebrating World NGO Day 2019 (February 27)! World NGO Day was established to celebrate the contributions employees, volunteers, members and supporters of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) make to benefit our society and inspire new supporters to become involved.

Why Celebrate World NGO Day?
NGOs are non-profit organizations working independently from a government to address a social or political issue. According to The Global Journal and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently more than 10 million NGOs operating worldwide, with 1.4 million based in the United States alone.

The term “non-governmental organization” was first used in the Charter of the newly formed United Nations in 1945. The idea for a day celebrating these organizations was first put forth on April 17, 2010 by the IX Baltic Sea NGO Forum Council of the Baltic Sea States. The first official World NGO day was hosted on February 27, 2014 with a gathering of hundreds of NGOs, representatives from the United Nations, UNESCO, the EU, and international leaders from the world over.

By 2018, World NGO Day was celebrated on 6 continents and in 89 countries.

What is International Social Service, USA’s Role In The NGO Community?
International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) works to connect vulnerable children, adults and families separated across borders to services and support. This is accomplished through an international network of legal and social work professionals who assist those in need, study the conditions and consequences of migration and make recommendations to prevent social problems linked to migration and intercountry mobility.

In 2017, ISS-USA assisted more than 3300 vulnerable individuals across six continents. A total of 1150 children, adults, and families were re-connected, linked to social services, supported, and empowered as they crossed borders and reintegrated. Thanks to donors, another 2156 individuals received expert advice, technical assistance and training so they could support a child, adult or family in need of services.

Without NGOs like ISS-USA and their network partners, there would be thousands of vulnerable families left without access to social services.

In Conclusion…
Today we celebrate the invaluable role that non-governmental organizations like ISS-USA play in our international community. Employees, supporters, and volunteers of NGOs work tirelessly every day to provide aid to those who need it most. On World NGO Day, we commemorate the tremendous work of NGOs, their supporters, and all their efforts to advance development and make the world a better place.

Help an NGO today by donating to ISS-USA.

Learn about ISS-USA’s services.

Get involved with ISS-USA.

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.