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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.

Inside Look: Intercountry Caseworker Interview

Olivia Barrios has been working as a bilingual intercountry caseworker for International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) since the summer of 2018. She takes a passionate approach to health education and social services. Prior to joining ISS-USA, Ms. Barrios worked for non-profit organizations serving youth and low-income families, helping them achieve their personal goals. We recently interviewed Ms. Barrios for an inside look into her experience as an intercountry caseworker for ISS-USA:

What do you enjoy most about being an intercountry case worker at ISS-USA?
“I enjoy looking for the independent contractors in the areas where I need to provide services for a vulnerable child or family and reaching out to them and informing them about how ISS-USA works to connect cross-border families. I also enjoy reading the positive reports of the family members and the plan they have to support the child or children once they are placed in a safe home. What I enjoy the most is reaching out to the family members in foreign countries to notify them about a case update. I can hear the happiness resonating in their voices through the phone.”

What life experiences led you to a career in intercountry case management?
“I worked for an unaccompanied minors program and I had the opportunity to experience the processes minors have to go through to be reunified with their family members or sponsors. I was also teaching health education classes to the Hispanic communities of Jefferson City and California, Missouri (MO). A couple of months after I started working in that position, I realized that these communities need a lot of support, especially in the area of medical services, social services, and education. When my family moved to Maryland (MD), I started looking for jobs in case management and I found ISS-USA, as they are based in Baltimore.”

What populations do you serve?
“I have served many populations throughout my career. However, I have provided the most services to Americans, Guatemalans, Ecuadorians, Dominicans, Netherlanders, Germans, Russians and Northern Irish.”

What are the greatest challenges you face while completing your case work?
“The greatest challenge has been overcoming delays in in the reception of case updates. I have some International Social Service (ISS) partners and independent contractors that would like to know updates in their cases. For recent cases I have worked on, family members will call and ask for the case updates and it is difficult for me to give them the most updated information when I have not received any updates in the case.”

Why is your position essential to ISS-USA’s mission to “mobilize a domestic and international network of legal and social work professionals to efficiently connect vulnerable children, adults and families who are separated by international borders to the services and support they need?”
“My dedication to find the agencies or independent contractors that can work with us to provide the services we need in different countries or states is essential to ISS-USA’s mission. This includes working for our Guatemala Reunification Project and knowing the Guatemalan community areas helped me to identify different agencies which could provide services to children and their families during the reintegration process.”

What do you wish more people knew about your work at ISS-USA?
“I wish more people could recognize how difficult it is to coordinate social services in foreign countries. It is time consuming when we do not have a partner or an independent contractor in that specific area and need to find one to work on the case. We have to also follow procedures and regulations so in some cases, the cases cannot be completed within two or three weeks as we would like them to be.
I also wish more social work agencies would know about our work and possibly give us a chance to provide the social services they need to help reunify children with their families.”

Any comments on working for ISS-USA? (What do you enjoy, how is working for ISS-USA compared to other organizations/past positions?)
“In other agencies, I had to work weekends, holidays and twice per month on call during my days off. It was challenging because sometimes I did not know how long my shift would be. At ISS-USA, I love having the weekends and holidays off so I can spend time visiting my children and friends.
I also enjoy helping the referring agencies and coordinating social services in other states and countries. I also enjoy communicating with our partners and independent contractors about the cases.”

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.

National Adoption Awareness Month: A Happy Story!

ISS-USA is celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month with one of our recent cases that was especially heartwarming.

An ISS-USA Intercountry Case Manager received a request from our partner in Europe regarding a family tracing service. At ages two and three, two brothers were placed for adoption when their drug-dependent mother was unable to care for them. Bryan* was adopted and brought to live in the U.S., while Louis* was adopted by European parents. Forty years later, Louis’ adoptive mother passed away and his adoptive father disclosed that Louis had a brother living in the U.S. This started Louis’ search for Bryan.

When ISS-USA took on the case, the case manager acted as a mediator and Louis and Bryan were able to make a connection. Not only were they shocked to learn of each other’s existence, but surprised to see the resemblance! The ISS-USA staff was thrilled to make this connection between the brothers, and the two are continuing to learn about each other and grow their relationship.

This year’s theme for National Adoption Awareness Month is “In Their Own Words: Lifting Up Youth Voices,” which highlights the needs of older children and children with disabilities in the U.S foster care system. While adoption is beneficial and often supports the best interest of the child, connecting children to their birth connections (when safe and appropriate) is important as well.

Bryan and Louis’ case is touching but not unique, as ISS-USA receives several post-adoption requests for families to trace their biological links each year. Through adoption, both Louis and Bryan were able to grow up in healthy, stable, and nurturing environments that allowed them to search for family connections later in life.

While everyone likes happy endings, child welfare organizations need to work diligently towards a proactive approach for happy beginnings. In 2018, the U.S had 679,191 children entering foster care with an average cost of $6,675 per child. If more funding is put towards family strengthening, it would better protect the long term considerations of children and lower the number of children entering foster care.

For more information about ISS-USA’s services, click here.

*Names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

In Celebration of Kinship Care Month: How to Eliminate Barriers to Overseas Kinship Placements in Three Easy Steps

According to a 2017 article by the American Bar Association (ABA), kinship care in comparison to non-relative foster care is preferable for many reasons. Kinship care, in general, minimizes trauma, improves children’s well-being, increases permanency for children, improves behavioral and mental health outcomes, promotes sibling ties, and can provide a bridge for older youth.

With this knowledge, a number of states have enacted legislation to expand support for grandparent and relative caregivers in order to increase the number of children placed with relatives. Other important steps include: improving licensing requirements/waivers/variances; expanding the definition of relative; and prioritizing and emphasizing relative placement. Currently, one third of all foster children in America are in kinship foster care.

Barriers to this practice include the wide variance for payments to families caring for their relatives along with ineffective family finding case practice models. Unfortunately, these barriers are even more pronounced when the relative in question lives overseas. As a result, overseas placement is an often overlooked solution in regards to kinship placements.

An example of an International Social Service-USA (ISS-USA) case that found resolution through overseas kinship placement is through the story of Maria and Francisco*. When Maria and her brother Francisco were removed from the home of their drug dependent mother in New Jersey, children’s services discovered that their father currently lived in Mexico. After conducting a home study, and a community survey to understand both the home and the community in which the children would potentially be living, a judge in New Jersey ordered the children to return to their father in Mexico. A New Jersey social worker accompanied the children to Mexico, and was met by a local social worker from the community where the children would be living. Together they accompanied the children and their father to their new home and got the children settled. Post placement reports revealed that the children were in school, thriving, re-learning Spanish and getting the medical care they needed.

We at ISS-USA suggest you follow these steps to overseas kinship placements:

1) The first, and simplest step, to help children reunify with kin overseas to is ask the question, “does this child have family outside of the U.S.?” Ask the child or look into it yourself, or find a way to trace for relatives overseas.
2) If the child does have family in another country, the second step is to learn about the community and the home that the child would be living in. Oftentimes we look at a country as a whole and make generalizations or assumptions about safety based on what we hear or see in the news. Get the facts via a home study and a community survey. Keep in mind, there are neighborhoods in the U.S. that you would not send a child, but in fact there are many places that children grow up perfectly safely!
3) Lastly, if you need advice or help as to what to do next, many options exist. Please don’t hesitate to call us and we can explain how to reunify and reintegrate a child with kin in another country. Email us at and check out our website, for further information.

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

#GivingTuesday: A Global Movement to Celebrate Year-End Charitable Giving

Founded in 2012, the global day of giving, #GivingTuesday, has brought together individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy through a day of giving; whether it is your time, your voice, or your financial support. For years, #GivingTuesday has celebrated generosity both in the U.S. and across the world. This global event allows everyone to give back after the U.S. retail sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. This year, #GivingTuesday will be held on November 27th.

As you gather with your family members this holiday season, consider #GivingTuesday as a way to support vulnerable families. International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) has been working across international borders for over 90 years to connect children, adults, and families to the social services they need. As participants in #GivingTuesday, ISS-USA is encouraging individuals to act as advocates for the mobilization of our global social service network by making a donation between now and November 27.

ISS-USA works globally to provide social services for vulnerable cross-border families. Due to generous donations received in 2017, ISS-USA was able to open 894 cases, provide social work and legal training for 1500 professionals, and connect 1,150 children and adults to social services all over the World.

With proper funding, the International Social Service global network is able to work effectively to support repatriating citizens and the reunification of families. With the support of donors, the members of our global network can ensure the safety and continued care of the children, adults, and families who have become vulnerable due to migration and other issues.

To follow our #GivingTuesday campaign, join us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, with the hashtag, #GivingISSGood.

Immigrant Parents are Not Failing Their Children, We Are. Providing Cross-Border Social Services Can Help.

For nearly one-hundred years, the International Social Service (ISS) Network has worked to connect children and families separated across borders. ISS plans and executes safe repatriation and reintegration services for cross-border families, while promoting policies and best practices in international child welfare. Recently, the policy of separating children from their families seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States has garnered a great deal of negative attention from child welfare experts and is not in line with child-centered, human rights policies in the best interest of the child.

The outrage and sorrow we feel by the separation (or mass incarceration) of families who present themselves at our border is intense. Parents do not make the decision lightly to take the harrowing journey with their children from their home country. It is heartbreaking and difficult, but in many cases they do it to save their children’s lives and give them a better future.

Lacking from proposed solutions to family separation issues is the recognition of social services needed to connect families within the U.S. and across international borders. Parents making difficult choices deserve the opportunity to be involved in decision-making for their children. U.S-based family members should also feel supported in their efforts to protect children who can safely be released to a sponsor.

Social service professionals have an overlooked and important role to play in this crisis and with separated families as a whole. International Social Service – USA (ISS-USA) practices family finding and engagement for all children in institutional care and the coordination of domestic and international social work services to ensure child protection is at the forefront of decision making. Here is a list of services ISS-USA offers for children.

It was the Wisdom of Solomon that illustrated the love a parent has for a child. A parent would rather lose their child than allow them to be harmed in any way. The fate of these separated children is now uncertain and we must demand that they are reunited with their families as quickly as possible. Providing essential cross-border social services is an integral part of the reunification process.

It’s National Foster Care Month and All Over the World, #KidsAreWaiting

Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are waiting to be reconnected to their families. A staggering number of children have been separated from their families because of the opioid crisis, the growing number of people being deported, the increase in the trafficking of young people, a rising number of international parental abductions, and economic and family crises. Likewise, there are thousands of children outside of the United States who are waiting to be reconnected to their families in the U.S.

International Social Service-USA is launching the #kidsarewaiting campaign to highlight the barriers children face in reuniting with their families across state and country borders. Here are some statistics:

– 107,000 #kidsarewaiting to be adopted in the U.S.
– 100,000 #kidsarewaiting in U.S. foster care for their families in foreign countries to be engaged in permanency planning for them.
– 30,000 #kidsarewaiting to be deinstitutionalized in the U.S.
– 20,000 #kidsarewaiting to leave group homes in the U.S.
– 193,000 #kidsarewaiting in non-relative foster homes to be reunited with family.

– #kidsarewaiting to be reunited with their left-behind parent after being abducted by a parent to a foreign country.
– #kidsarewaiting to be safely reintegrated into their communities after being trafficked.
– #kidsarewaiting for documents from a another country to be allowed to legally remain in the U.S.
– #kidsarewaiting for us to evaluate their non-custodial parent’s home in another state so they can find permanency.

International Social Service-USA provides the social work services needed to make permanency decisions in the best interest of the child when a state or national border separates that child from his or her family. We can:
1) provide home studies on parents or extended family to assess the suitability and sustainability of placing the child in that home;
2) conduct relative and document tracings to support immigration relief or ensure that a child can enroll in school and access benefits in the U.S. or abroad;
3) facilitate virtual family engagement activities including attending family team meetings, attending legal and judicial proceedings, and communicating with the child;
4) conduct child resource surveys in the community to where the child is moving or retuning to ensure that the child will have all the necessary supports when they arrive.

Far too many children in the U.S. and around the World are waiting for us to make decisions and conduct services to support permanency for them. International Social Service-USA believes the existence of a state or national border between a child and his or her family is not an excuse for not looking for, engaging, or evaluating that family. For over 90 years we have served millions of children and families who faced this kind of separation and helped them find each other. To learn more about our services for children, visit the Services for Children page of our website. To donate to assist children and families in need, visit our donation page.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2018: Best Practices in Permanency Planning for Children with Family Connections in a Foreign Country

Several years ago, a child in foster care from a western U.S. state was placed in the care of her extended family in Mexico. There had been no home study on the family, background checks, or other basic assessments to determine if this placement was in the child’s best interest. The child ultimately died of injuries inflicted upon her by her aunt and uncle. The tragedy resulted in a common “knee-jerk” reaction: shut down all foreign placements of foster children with their extended families.

The dual problem with this response is: 1) in too many cases, children are denied a permanent home with appropriate family in other countries, and 2) it does not address the underlying cause of the problem, which is poorly enforced case practice protocols for out-of-country placements. Prevention of abuse and neglect for children already in foster care requires that we follow the best case practice models and thoroughly assess potential caregivers regardless of where the family may live.

The prevention of child abuse and neglect is complex and ever-changing. The challenges faced by parents, step-parents, and other adult caregivers are constantly shifting in the face of multifaceted social and economic problems. The current opioid epidemic, for example, has caused a dramatic increase in the number of children taken into the care of social service agencies due to abuse and/or neglect. Likewise, there is a growing number of children in foster care because their parent(s) are the subject of immigration enforcement.

As the number of children who are taken into the care of public child welfare agencies continues to grow and resources, especially foster families, dwindle; case workers must expand their thinking about where to find, and how to engage family members outside the United States in the permanency planning process. These family members may be in the military, retired abroad, working for a multi-national firm, or they may be foreign members of the child’s extended family.

These families have the same right to be considered for inclusion in the permanency planning process and for placement as a family member living in America. But, like any placement option, families living outside of the U.S. must be assessed in the very same manner as a U.S.-based family would be. While there is no guarantee that home studies, background checks, and other pre-placement assessments will uncover every potential abuser, it is essential that they are conducted for the safety of the child.

In 2017, International Social Service-USA conducted 150 home studies, 40 child welfare checks, and 67 post-placements, serving 325 children.