National reunification month celebrates the importance of family reunification for children in foster care, and also offers an opportunity to reflect on priorities and practices that help- or hinder- these . The benefits of reunification are well documented. Reunification increases a child’s sense of connectedness, which leads to stronger self-image and self-esteem, among many other physical and emotional health outcomes. Reunification also helps children stay connected to their culture, in some cases language, and family support networks. Consequently, there are mandates in all fifty states for child welfare agencies to perform reasonable efforts to keep children with their families[i]. So why is it that reunification across international borders is still seen as too difficult, or in some cases, not even considered at all?
Recent findings from a survey conducted by ISS-USA showed that 40% of respondents from state and local child welfare agencies don’t include international diligent search and family finding efforts as a standard part of their work, even when the child has an immigrant parent. A smaller percentage indicated feeling that their family court would be willing to consider a placement in another country. ISS-USA has been working to reunify children with families across borders for almost 100 years and has partners in over 120 countries to support permanency planning services. Resources exist to do this work and to safely reunify children with family overseas, but few states have policies in place to support social work and legal practitioners to do this consistently.
Children whose family connections cross international borders have historically been at a disadvantage for family reunification. ISS-USA firmly believes that cross-border kinship placement options must be more widely integrated into case practice protocols across the country in order to fulfill states’ responsibility to prioritize kinship connections for all children. As we honor reunification month this June and moving forward, let’s make sure that transnational families are part of the discussion and that we commit energy – and resources- to ensure we are prioritizing children’s access to family wherever they are.
It is well-documented that children have better outcomes when they are raised with their family and to this end, all 50 states have protocols mandating reasonable efforts to keep children with their families. However, children who have family ties outside of the United States are at a disadvantage for family reunification.
Identifying children with international family connections is a minimal first step to ensuring their equal access to family reunification.
[i] Northcott, F.S. & Jefferies, W. (2013) Forgotten Families: International Family
Connections for Children in the American Public Child-Welfare System. Family Law Quarterly, 47(2), 273-298.; Child Welfare Information Gateway (2020). Reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify families and achieve permanency for children. Retrieved from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/reunify.pdf