Tag Archives: social work

What is Case Management?

Earlier this month, the ISS-USA office moved to a new building. Anyone who has experienced the stress of an office move can relate: finding a new space, hiring movers, setting up the internet, and so many additional elements must be coordinated!

Luckily, ISS-USA employs many case managers who are experts in coordination.

Case management and social work have been linked since the early days of the profession. Today, case management is a skill set primarily practiced in fields of social work, nursing and other human services, and is commonly used to address needs of vulnerable populations. There are numerous definitions for case management, in both the U.S. and international contexts. Definitions of Case Management all include a few basic tenets:

Improving well-being:
The goal in case management is to improve outcomes for individuals or families by connecting them to services and supports that meet their individual needs. This may be related to dealing with an illness or injury, ensuring a child in foster care is cared for while awaiting permanency, or supporting individuals with substance use and mental health issues.

Case-specific:
While the ultimate goal in case management is improved wellbeing, the route to get there looks different for each person. One patient with a chronic illness may need support with medication management and affordable housing. Another patient may need help accessing reliable medical care, managing bills, and finding daycare for her dependent children. Goals are set by based on the individual receiving support, and plans to achieve these goals require that person’s active involvement and buy-in.

Multiple Service:
Since every case plan looks different based on individual needs and goals, case managers cannot provide each needed service directly. Rather, they work with service providers across a variety of disciplines to coordinate referrals, appointments, services, and follow up. For many, interrelated issues such as medical care, housing, and substance abuse cannot be addressed by a single entity. Having a single case manager to serve as the contact person helps ensure each need is addressed with timely follow up and coordination.

At ISS-USA, case management follows the same basic principles when working on cases of children and vulnerable adults crossing international borders. Case managers are responsible for understanding the unique needs of each case and coordinating services between authorities and providers in two countries or states.

For example, six year old Melissa, a client of ISS-USA, was taken into care in Israel as a result of signs of neglect by her mother. Her father lived with her grandparents in Michigan and requested custody of his daughter. The ISS-USA case manager worked with our partner in Israel to provide the judge a home study on the paternal relatives in Michigan to ensure the home was safe, and a community resource survey to identify the educational, medical, recreational, religious and community supports that would be available to Melissa in the U.S. After a judge granted custody to Melissa’s father, ISS-USA helped coordinate travel and post placement follow up to make sure Melissa is enrolled in school, being followed by a pediatrician and adjusting to her new family environment.

Case managers rarely are rarely in the spotlight, but provide an essential specialization. Next time you are sitting with a family member in the hospital, looking to support a vulnerable child, or simply embarking on a move, think about how much you’d like a case manager on hand.

To learn more about ISS-USA’s services for children and families, visit our website, www.iss-usa.org. To register for ISS-USA’s upcoming October conference, “Beyond Separation: Protecting Cross Border Families,” use this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-separation-protecting-cross-border-families-two-day-conference-with-training-institute-tickets-63113700778.

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.

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.

2018 – A Year in Review

The 2018 ISS-USA staff with three members of the ISS-USA Board of Directors – Mary Mentaberry, Mark Greenberg, and Bill Evans

This is our last blog post of the year, so we would like to take the time to thank our clients, partners, colleagues, board members, and donors as well as highlight some of International Social Service, USA’s accomplishments in 2018:

First, the thank yous. The nature of our cross-border work requires us rely on our international and domestic partners to provide services to children and families. All of our International Social Service (ISS) network partners have been an invaluable resource for us this year. In 2018, we opened more cases than ever before and the quality and professionalism of the case work has allowed us to grow our staff to respond to an increased need for services. Thank you again, ISS network partners, for your kind collegiality, professional standards, and unwavering dedication.

Within the U.S., we rely on a growing network of private social workers to complete assessments for our ISS network partners and interstate cases. These social workers are responsive, supportive, and hard-working. We send our sincere thanks to them.

Thanks to our donors and funders for recognizing the need to support cross-border social services. After receiving a grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, we were able to hire a social worker to assist us in increasing our capacity to repatriate and reintegrate unaccompanied minors in Mexico and the Northern Triangle.

We have also received a grant to provide safe and sustainable repatriation and reintegration services for children being returned to Guatemala. We have formed a new partnership with Escuela De La Calle (EDELAC) in Guatemala to provide the on-going reintegration services to support the families of these children.

Last, but not least, the International Social Service, USA staff and interns deserve a thank you for all of their hard work. A major reason why we are growing our number of state contracts, increasing the number of cases we open, and receiving more grants and conference opportunities than ever before is due to the dedication, quality of work, and responsiveness of our staff. They have all earned their holiday break before jumping in again in 2019.

Moving into 2019, the number of children being separated from their families across international borders will continue to increase as global migration numbers are at a record high. In the U.S., the number of children entering foster care is rising and many of these children are not being connected to their families in another state or country.

It is our sincere hope that in 2019, every social worker, lawyer, GAL, and judge will commit to finding, engaging, and assessing family resources for every child regardless of where that family may be.

As always, International Social Service, USA will be here to help you in that process.

We wish you and yours a very happy holiday season and we look forward to connecting with you again in 2019.

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.