Tag Archives: social services

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/

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.

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.