International Social Service – U.S.A https://www.iss-usa.org/ Connecting Cross-Border Families Tue, 29 Nov 2022 17:17:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://www.iss-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/cropped-ISS-USA-Icon-32x32.png International Social Service – U.S.A https://www.iss-usa.org/ 32 32 Finding Family Against All Odds https://www.iss-usa.org/finding-family-against-all-odds/ Tue, 29 Nov 2022 17:17:52 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55238 Over the past 2 year, ISS-USA has been working with a cross border family to reunite a mother living in Guatemala with her daughter who was adopted by a family in the Netherlands. Just after the case was received, COVID hit, and an enormous amount of emotional and practical uncertainty cast a long shadow over [...]

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Over the past 2 year, ISS-USA has been working with a cross border family to reunite a mother living in Guatemala with her daughter who was adopted by a family in the Netherlands. Just after the case was received, COVID hit, and an enormous amount of emotional and practical uncertainty cast a long shadow over the likelihood of the daughter finding her first mother.  Read more to find out if ISS was able to reunite the first mother in Guatemala with her daughter in the Netherlands during a global pandemic.

Olivia Barrios (Program Coordinator at ISS-USA) shares her experiences:

The names in the following story have been altered to protect the identity of those involved.

How did the search go during COVID?

This search, referred by ISS Netherlands, was received just a couple of weeks before Covid-19 pummeled us all into uncertainty and lockdowns. I informed our partner in Guatemala and she started mapping the area where the first mother was born and then later worked. It took some time to identify the precise community because it is a rural community located in the northwestern hills of Guatemala. Our Guatemalan partner was able to learn that the adoption agency was closed years ago and the name of the attorney was on a list of those attorneys who had lost their licenses. The social worker then requested approval to look at the national registry entity to obtain first mother’s information. Unfortunately, the mother had not updated her identification documents and our partner was not able to obtain a physical address for her. (three strikes).  Most of this work was done by phone calls and via the internet.

Our partner decided to reach out to the Archdiocese in the area, by phone. After numerous attempts to get through, the priest was able to help her and provided the phone number for the priest in a neighboring city. Our partner reached out a couple of times and finally she was able to talk to the priest and stated that she searching for a Ms. Garcia to talk about a relative. The priest agreed to help in the search and said that he would try his best in locating Ms. Garcia and/or another family member. Many months passed and finally the priest contacted our partner informing her that a community leader was able to find Ms. Garcia and put her in contact with our partner who established communication with Ms. Garcia and informed her the reasons that she was looking for her.

The first mother was surprised that her daughter was looking for her. She thought that she would never hear from her. She cried and said “I love my daughter but, I did not have the economic resources to take care of her and I had to give her in adoption.” She stated that there was not a single day that she did not think about her and there were times that she desperately cried and was not able to explain to her family, that did not know of this adoption. She decided to take some time to think about it before making any decisions.

More time passed and, our partner did not hear back from Ms. Santos. Our partner tried several times to contact her but her phone number was no longer in service. She reached back to the priest and who was able to establish contact with a relative, Ms. Garcia’s sister. She told the priest that Ms. Garcia told her about her daughter and she was so happy to hear that her daughter is doing well; however, she was worried because she never told her family that she gave her first child in adoption. After communicating with our partner, Ms. Garcia was assured that the only thing that we were seeking was a virtual meeting between herself and her daughter. She was reassured that her privacy would be respected in all other matters.

How did Ms. Garcia feel about connecting?

Ms. Garcia was happy to know that her child was healthy and doing well but she was worried that her daughter might reject her or judge her for giving her in adoption. Ms. Jansen, Ms. Garcia’s daughter, wrote a letter to her first mother and in it she expressed that she loved her and did not judge her. She has kept her mother’s photograph that was provided with the adoption documents and she stated that she “loves her.” I participated, together with our partner in providing some emotional support to Ms. Garcia. Sometimes Ms. Garcia would call while working in the fields and send pictures to share with her daughter.

What were your impressions at the meeting? 

All of us were happy that finally, Ms. Jansen’s dream came true. When Ms. Garcia joined the call, they were both happy and emotional. Ms. Garcia asked for forgiveness many times and said that she never stopped loving her but thought that giving her in adoption would provide a better future.

What pieces of advice or information would you share with any of our new staff or interns who were to participate in a similar case?

Tracing cases can take a long time to finally locate the family. We need to be patient and think out of the box. We also need to support our partners while they reach out to other community members to assist in the tracing. Our partner reaching out to the church ended up being the only way to find Ms. Garcia, when all other methods failed. Having a good network helps and we also need to careful that we don’t breach someone’s privacy in our attempts to find them.

 

Thanks to the continuous work of our team in Guatemala, we were all able to share in the joy and success of connecting this cross-border family for the first time. “The mother and daughter continue their communication and plan to meet in the near future!

 

 

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Heritage in Community https://www.iss-usa.org/heritage-in-community/ Mon, 24 Oct 2022 15:55:34 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=56119 While I was working with the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) this summer, I conducted some internal research on search and reunion and reconnection with cultural heritage among Korean American adoptees. Below I share a few points I came to appreciate in the process. These thoughts are my own and do not represent the views [...]

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While I was working with the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) this summer, I conducted some internal research on search and reunion and reconnection with cultural heritage among Korean American adoptees. Below I share a few points I came to appreciate in the process. These thoughts are my own and do not represent the views of any organizations.

It is important to note that exploration and reconnection are not always possible or desirable for adoptees. Even for people with these options, there is no prescription for embarking on one journey over any other. This is the agency that I hope is restored to us as adopted people. 

Cross-cohort learning can be our “intergenerational” learning

Though adoption places us across many areas, we still find ways to learn from one another across space and time. When I found online Chinese adoptee groups in the early 2010s, the biggest weight off my shoulders was that I wasn’t alone in my questions about heritage and community. Even beyond my circles of adoptees from China, learning from other cohorts gives context to understand myself and our shared struggles. 

Adoptees are not a monolith, and learning about the footprints of adoptees can help us engage with how we want to build our communities. Many adoptees are reflecting on Roe v. Wade and what that means for the U.S. adoption and foster care systems. The voices of adoptees from Korea have organized in groups like IKAA that now welcome Chinese adoptees into their programming and events. Intercountry Adoptee Voices acts as a support network created by and for intercountry adoptees from any country of origin. Though adoption happens at one point in an individual family, young adoptees who wish to, can step into conversations that started long ago, and can inform how we choose to build community. As adoptees we have our own individual origin stories and social, political, cultural contexts, but learning from fellow adoptees can constitute our own “intergenerational” learning. 

This means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Adoptees before us have already laid the groundwork by trailblazing the first adoptee-led organizations. For Korean adoptees, organized groups took shape in the 1990s in large part by the sheer persistence of adopted people connecting with one another. To found the adoptee group Also-Known-As in 1996, Hollee McGinnis approached many groups and set up a desk at the Asian Heritage Festival in New York City trying to connect in person with anyone who was adopted (she describes her organizing in this NPR Code Switch episode). Now Also-Known-As is fortunately one of many regional organizations for Korean intercountry adoptees, and connections for those who seek them are more accessible than ever before.

In the case of reconnecting with heritage, the Chinese Adoptee Alliance (formerly FCC) has hosted Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year celebrations and panels on visiting China as an adult. Calling in from my home state of Vermont, I was able to connect with Chinese American adoptees in the Boston area through the mentorship program by China’s Children International. Not everyone chooses or is able to find community in adoptee groups, but more and more who are interested can find the tools and good company along the way.

When it comes to heritage, search and reunion, an individual’s journey is still their own.

Heritage can be explored through public or private memory. In one case, Melissa Rizzo Weller (2022) points to original birth certificates as a way some adoptees explore what many feel to be a “missing piece” of identity. Many adoptees are addressing personal legal and medical challenges every day. But adoptees should also have the choice to connect with heritage and history on their own terms, like learning a birth language and observing traditions and holidays of a birth culture. This can result in hybridized home cultures—homes like mine with “shipwreck hot dish” (a U.S. midwestern casserole special) and hot pot. It takes effort to set up the habit of cultural exploration by the adoptee, hand in hand with family members or whomever they include on the journey, but worth it for many.

In the context of search and reunion, there is an increasing supply of resources and accounts by people who have searched before. For example, Hollee McGinnis advises Korean adoptees to ask themselves Ten Questions while considering a birth search. Adoptees may find adoptee-only spaces in events like the online panel on birth family reunion hosted by Asian Adoptees of Canada in July. In my research of search and reunion journeys, I found a variety of versions and timelines of reconnection. Paul Sachdev writes that those who reunite may sustain contact with some, all, or none of the people they find. In addition to individual connections, another study by Ashley Landers, Saron Danes and Sandy White Hawk finds that an adopted person’s sense of satisfaction with reunion depends on the adopted person’s sense of connection to their birth community. This implies meaningful reconnection within not only a family, but a society. 

For people who do seek community in groups, now is an exciting time to get involved with projects and organizations led by adopted people. Many adoptee-led organizations and projects are young enough that they are still connected to their founders, or one leadership transition removed from their original leadership. Just over two decades after the peak years of adoption from China to the U.S. these organizations are also robust and open enough to support the cross-cohort connections mentioned above. This presents an opportunity for the many Chinese American adoptees who are coming of age and getting involved in growing our own networks and knowledge base. Those of us who are interested in how these organizations were seeded, took root, and continue to bloom, have multiple varieties and soil to cultivate. 

 

About the Author

Mahli Knutson was born in Guangdong, China, and adopted to the U.S. Her work focuses on migration and transnational families, and in her free time she enjoys hot cocoa and card games.

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Preserving Connections: Rethinking the approach to cultural identity https://www.iss-usa.org/preserving-connections-rethinking-the-approach-to-cultural-identity/ Fri, 21 Oct 2022 20:11:38 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=56109 Three questions we MUST ASK, in order to change the way we help children stay connected with their cultural identity and their families? 1) Shouldn’t ALL of our child protection laws be like the Indian Child Welfare Act?  This is  the only legislation that places emphasis on family, culture, and community.  This law should be [...]

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Three questions we MUST ASK, in order to change the way we help children stay connected with their cultural identity and their families?

1) Shouldn’t ALL of our child protection laws be like the Indian Child Welfare Act?  This is  the only legislation that places emphasis on family, culture, and community.  This law should be found constitutional by the Supreme Court when it hears the Haaland v. Brackeen Case.  But even if the Supreme Court has other ideas, the tenets of this law should be integrated into ALL laws domestic and international that affect the placement of children if they become separated from their families.

2) Shouldn’t adoption be a last resort for children in general?  HHS Children’s Bureau states that “Children in foster care should not have to choose between families. We should offer them the opportunity to expand family relationships, not sever or replace them.” P.10. through kinship care.

Similarly, “The Biden administration proposes spending $20 billion over a decade to help some of the most vulnerable families in the country, including relatives suddenly thrust into child rearing, ” otherwise known as kinship care.  Kinship care must be invested in and carried out using other tools such as legal guardianship; only using termination of parental rights and adoption as a last resort. We caution though that there will be no equity in kinship care, unless the HHS Children’s Bureau and states create awareness, policies, and tools so that children with kin OUTSIDE the U.S. can also be considered for placement with their kin. One fourth of all children in the U.S. have an immigrant family member.  The family in New York Times article cited above was living in Spain permanently at the time their grandchildren ended up in foster care.  With ISS-USA’s help, they might have been able to continue living in Spain and take care of their grand children at the same time. The assumption that a family MUST return to the U.S. or live within the U.S. is discriminatory. Some family members will not have the option to live in the United States and others may choose not to.

3) Shouldn’t we make it easier for adoptees (and children of assisted reproductive technology) to get information about their origins from the very beginning? The research says YES, those who have been adopted say YES, and so resoundingly, we need to remove barriers to adoptees and others uncovering their origins.  DNA databases have already made secrecy (to a large extent) pointless.  In addition, we need to make the process more transparent and open from the beginning and throughout a child’s journey into adulthood.  Finally, we need to provide more support to adoptees (and others) before, during and after their search processes.  Native Americans have created an ideal model for this. The First Nations Repatriation Institute (FNRI) is the first organization of its kind whose goal is to create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to return home, reconnect, and reclaim their identity.  Research by Landers, A. L., Danes, S. M. & White Hawk, S. (2015). Finding their way home: The reunification of First Nations adoptees. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 10(2) 18–30. https://doi.org/10.7202/1077259ar/ highlights that First Nation adoptees are more satisfied with reunion outcomes when they feel connected to extended family and to their cultural roots and ancestral land.

Cultural identity is VERY important to people who have become separated from their families

We have an opportunity to rethink HOW we help children stay connected to their cultural identity.

This must include:
Maintaining or finding connections to family, community and land.
Supporting kinship care arrangements financially and with services;
And in situations where adoption is the best option for a child, helping the child and adopting family maintain relationships with the child’s family, culture, and land.
Finally, whether family or kin are part of a Native American nation or live in a different nation- we have the tools to connect them, and we must learn to use all the tools we have available to us.
Children both need and deserve to know who they are and where they come from and grow up with or connected to their people when possible.

 

About the Author

Julie Rosicky

Julie Rosicky is the chief executive officer of ISS-USA, a national organization, based in Baltimore, MD that is part of a global network that works to reunite children and families separated by international borders. Prior to leading ISS-USA, Julie worked in domestic child advocacy, alternative dispute resolution, and providing social services to refugees and Native Americans. Julie has a BS from the University of Colorado, and a MS from the University of OR, in Developmental Psychology.  In her free time she rows, travels across the U.S. and globe with her husband and their adult sons and spends time locally with her parents and elderly dog.

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Keeping Culture Alive https://www.iss-usa.org/keeping-culture-alive/ Wed, 19 Oct 2022 19:00:29 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55210 Preserving cultural identity across borders can be difficult. Jim and Monica Frye experienced this struggle first hand as they expanded their family by means of intercountry adoption. The Frye’s live in Queen Creek, Arizona with their 3 children Dylan (24), Daniel (21), and Amy (17), all adopted from South Korea as infants. The Frye’s adopted [...]

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Preserving cultural identity across borders can be difficult. Jim and Monica Frye experienced this struggle first hand as they expanded their family by means of intercountry adoption. The Frye’s live in Queen Creek, Arizona with their 3 children Dylan (24), Daniel (21), and Amy (17), all adopted from South Korea as infants.

The Frye’s adopted through Dylan Southwest, an adoption agency located in Scottsdale Arizona, specializing in South Korean adoptions. From the beginning, the agency emphasized the weight of preserving culture throughout the life of intercountry adoptees.

Hanbok parade at Children's Day event
Hanbok parade at Children’s Day event

“The adoption agency said how important it is to keep their culture alive, whether it’s cooking the Korean food or participating in different events or activities, music, the language,” said Monica.

Jim highlighted how the agency was crucial in bridging the cultural gaps even after the adoption process was completed.

“The agency set up events, whereas the kids aged, they could get together. It was great because they already had South Korean adoption in common and could become friends but it was also like therapy in a way,” said Jim. “We would go to Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and the Korean foster moms would come (to America) and they would cook original authentic Korean food.”

“In my mind, the best thing that the social agencies can do is provide those cultural events because they knew it, they lived it, and they spoke the language,” said Jim.

The events were memorable for the parents as well, and helped them make connections and relationships that proved

Monica and Dylan at Chuseok celebration in Arizona
Monica and Dylan at Chuseok celebration in Arizona

beneficial for the children long term.

“After Daniel was born, I got together with some of the moms that adopted kids from Korea and let the kids have play dates,” said Monica.

Jim and Monica also implemented aspects of Korean culture at home. Monica expressed the importance of retaining the Korean 1st birthday traditions.

“In South Korean culture, it’s really important to celebrate their first birthday. In the past, the mortality rate for babies was super high, so if they could make it to their first birthday, they knew their child was going to live. So, it was a big deal for them and they put on big celebrations for that day, so that’s what we did,” said Monica. “The foster moms sent us a hanbok (traditional Korean 1st birthday attire) for each of the kids. So, they put it on (the hanbok) and you place items in front of your child and whichever they pick, that signifies what they will be.”

Dylan wearing traditional Korean Hanbok.
Dylan wearing traditional Korean Hanbok.
Amy wearing traditional Korean Hanbok.
Amy wearing traditional Korean Hanbok.

Monica said her eldest son Dylan chose the pen, signifying that he would be scholarly. She also recalled that some cultural differences proved more challenging than others.

“When we first adopted Dylan, he would cry and cry in his crib so I slept on the floor with him until he got comfortable because that’s what he was used to.”

Although culture remains important to the Frye family, the closure of the adoption agency stripped many connections and in turn made the task all the more difficult.

“Once they went out of business, it became so challenging. Had the agency stuck around, and kept putting on the functions, it would have been easier to get all the kids together and show more of the culture,” said Jim.

As their children have grown older, they have expressed contentment in their understanding of Korean culture; however, Jim and Monica are continually open and willing to provide more access to and education of Korean culture to their children. Dylan, the eldest of the 3, expressed interest in the whereabouts of his birthmother.

“Dylan is the only one who wanted to be in contact with his birth mom, which we aided in trying to find her, but they (the agency) couldn’t find her,” said Monica.

“We reached out to her and did whatever we could to help him, because in our mind, it was just a blessing we were able to help raise them,” said Jim.

Although the search was unfruitful, Jim and Monica remain open to future endeavors for the kids to pursue Korean culture.

“As mom and dad, if your child expresses a desire to know more about their culture, if you truly love them, I think you should foster that the best you can,” said Jim.

 

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The Key to the Future of Cultural Identity is Hidden in our Past https://www.iss-usa.org/thefutureofculturalidentity/ Wed, 19 Oct 2022 18:54:46 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=56101 The Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries (SWHA) documents the complex history and legacy of child welfare policies and programs. The historical records at SWHA are a resource for understanding adoption and foster care systems, public assistance programs for families and children, juvenile justice and incarceration, children in migration, and child [...]

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The Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries (SWHA) documents the complex history and legacy of child welfare policies and programs. The historical records at SWHA are a resource for understanding adoption and foster care systems, public assistance programs for families and children, juvenile justice and incarceration, children in migration, and child protection. Researchers from around the world have used the archives for books, dissertations, journal articles, scholarly papers, policy papers, documentary films, legal scholarship, and investigative journalism.  Here is but a sampling.

The ISSUSA historical records at SWHA are a significant resource on the history of transnational adoption and other cross-border social services from the 1930s to the 1980s. The correspondence, reports, studies, and case records also document such topics as: immigration policy; refugees, displaced persons, and forced migration; repatriation and family reunification; concepts of citizenship; responses to humanitarian crises due to war, occupation, and mass migration; and international family law. Together, the records reflect an active global network impacting people in crisis-driven migration and document the impact of post–World War II American involvement in international military, political, and humanitarian activity. They record the impact of these services on the lives of individuals, families, communities, and nations.

The difficult nature of the ISSUSA records and ongoing impacts of the policies and experiences documented in them present both a challenge and an opportunity. The records are a key part of SWHA’s significant collections on the history of child welfare policy. Still, much more could be done to increase access to the materials by the adoptees and their families to find another and information about their past, and for the scholarly community and the public, domestically and internationally, through digitization.

ISSUSA and SWHA have partnered to apply for a grant to test how to digitize and then remove personal information from the ISS USA records held at SWHA in order to lower barriers to access for scholars and the adoption community. The project would build a test set with samples from three categories of ISSUSA records: adoption case files; summary case index cards; administrative files.

Cross-border family formation remains a relevant topic of research, especially as families are on the move in record numbers, and new forms of family formation such as assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy have yet to be well understood and regulated from the perspective of the child born of these methods. ISS USA records at the Social Welfare History Archives provide a road map on how to understand practices of the past, and how they might inform child-centered practices of the future.

In addition, records continue to be relevant to current international child welfare policy. Adult adoptee affinity groups have proliferated, and with them, the many stories of personally traumatic or even tragic adoptions and the unearthing of many adoption practices that have led to these outcomes. But as a field, these stories have been mostly told anecdotally, despite the fact that past practices have major implications on family formation both in the adoption sphere, and also in the assisted reproductive technology space. Creating an accessible research set will help current practitioners to understand the potentially harmful and potentially protective practices then, as well as implications for work with children without the care and protection of family today.

About the Author

Linnea Anderson is the Archivist of the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries. She has an MA in History and Certificate in Archival Management from the New York University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of History and Archival Management Program, as well as a BA in History and BA in Theatre from St Olaf College.

Prior to working at the Social Welfare History Archives, Linnea was assistant archivist and then assistant director of the Columbia University Archives in New York. She helped to plan and establish the first formal archives since Columbia’s founding in 1754. She also served as a consultant to archives and historical societies for the New York State Documentary Heritage Program.

Before becoming an archivist, Linnea was a museum educator at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, NY where she developed and presented programs in New York’s historic waterfront district and in New York Harbor on board the historic 1885 schooner, Pioneer.

 

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Joshua’s Story – International Kinship Care https://www.iss-usa.org/joshuas-story-international-kinship-care/ Mon, 10 Oct 2022 18:36:18 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55128 Ten years ago, baby Joshua was in a precarious situation. Removed from his mother’s care and with no other family placement options in Australia, Joshua was placed in foster care. Being raised in foster care was the likely trajectory of his childhood. This changed however when a proactive caseworker contacted ISS Australia, seeking assistance to [...]

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Ten years ago, baby Joshua was in a precarious situation. Removed from his mother’s care and with no other family placement options in Australia, Joshua was placed in foster care. Being raised in foster care was the likely trajectory of his childhood. This changed however when a proactive caseworker contacted ISS Australia, seeking assistance to locate Joshua’s family members in Borneo.

Through the assistance of our ISS member in Malaysia, Joshua’s maternal grandparents were located and advised of their grandson’s existence and situation. They expressed their desire to care for Joshua and a comprehensive assessment was completed, recommending the grandparents as a viable placement option for Joshua. The Children’s Court Judge then recommended Joshua be transitioned into his grandparent’s long-term care, a process which began with 8-month-old Joshua being escorted to Borneo with the assistance of ISS Australia.

Fast forward 10 years and Joshua continues to thrive in his family placement in Borneo, which in turn has enhanced his sense of identity and cultural needs as well as his family connections. ISS encourages all child protection caseworkers to explore all options that might allow a child to remain within their extended family, including identifying any potential family placement overseas.

This 4 minute International Kinship Care video highlights Joshua’s story. It aims to raise awareness and promote international kinship care as an important and viable alternative care option for children in care.

 

Thank you to ISS Australia for sharing this amazing story!

About the Author

Damon has worked for ISS Australia since February 2008, managing the NSW Government funded services as well as ISS Australia’s previous DSS funded Intercountry Adoption Service. He is a qualified social worker who graduated in 1998 and has a Vocational Graduate Certificate in Family Dispute Resolution Services. Before working for ISS Australia, Damon worked in statutory child protection for 10 years in NSW, England and New Zealand. Damon is deeply committed to supporting and connecting vulnerable children, adults and families affected by cross border issues.

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Equity in Permanency https://www.iss-usa.org/equity-in-permanency/ Fri, 30 Sep 2022 17:34:27 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55234 A condensed history of ISS-USA For almost 100 years, ISS-USA has helped to reunite families separated by borders. Our early history addressed the needs of women traveling alone or with children from Europe to the Americas following World War I. During World War II, ISS-USA helped protect children sent to the U.S. from Germany and [...]

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A condensed history of ISS-USA

For almost 100 years, ISS-USA has helped to reunite families separated by borders. Our early history addressed the needs of women traveling alone or with children from Europe to the Americas following World War I. During World War II, ISS-USA helped protect children sent to the U.S. from Germany and other occupied countries. Post Korean and Vietnam wars, ISS-USA collaborated with our global network to find homes for Vietnamese, Korean, Greek children, as well as others, through intercountry adoption tapering off in the 1970s. Today, ISS-USA continues to provide cross border social services to:

  • Enable U.S. state child protection agencies to search for, assess and place children with their families/kin overseas;
  • Support U.S. citizens repatriating to the U.S. from other countries due to destitution, mental illness, and humanitarian crises;
  • Reunite children separated from families during immigration to or from United States and
  • Assist adult adoptees seeking to find and connect with biological family.

One of the pervasive themes throughout our history is that cultural Identity is very important to ALL people who are currently or who have been separated from their families for some or all of their lives. Numerous academic research projects, using ISS-USA’s files at University of Minnesota Social Welfare Archives underscore this. However, through research on past practice and our experiences with current practice, we have learned that the current tools available to help children separated from their families and their cultures are NOT accessible to all.

During the month of October, we will explore what cultural identity means to people who have experience with child welfare systems including Native American and indigenous children of other countries and intercountry adoptees. Using social media, we will share information that compares what various legislation says about cultural identity when placing a child. We will include resources, tools, and gaps in child welfare systems and create space for people’s personal views and experiences.

Week one will provide perspectives on legal frameworks. Week two will explore a large gap that ISS-USA, and other members of our ISS network have uncovered in the way in which foster care systems address cross border families.  The final two weeks will explore the importance of adoptees’ access to personal records and adoptees relationships with one another, with their foster families, first families and communities of origin as foundations to support their lifelong exploration of cultural identity.

We invite you to follow our posts, share your thoughts, visit our website and continue to join with us in our commitment to ensure that children have access to their cultures, their families, and their communities.

About the Author

Julie Rosicky

Julie Rosicky is the chief executive officer of ISS-USA, a national organization, based in Baltimore, MD that is part of a global network that works to reunite children and families separated by international borders. Prior to leading ISS-USA, Julie worked in domestic child advocacy, alternative dispute resolution, and providing social services to refugees and Native Americans. Julie has a BS from the University of Colorado, and a MS from the University of OR, in Developmental Psychology.  In her free time she rows, travels across the U.S. and globe with her husband and their adult sons and spends time locally with her parents and elderly dog.

 

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly https://www.iss-usa.org/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/ Wed, 14 Sep 2022 20:18:56 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55098 Jena Martin’s preface to her own article: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – A New Way of Looking at the Intercountry Adoption Debate  It’s funny how things work out. Seventeen years ago, I wrote an article.  My original  goal in writing the article was to shed light on what I had once thought [...]

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Jena Martin’s preface to her own article: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – A New Way of Looking at the Intercountry Adoption Debate 

It’s funny how things work out.

Seventeen years ago, I wrote an article.  My original  goal in writing the article was to shed light on what I had once thought of as a heartless rule – a country’s prohibition against intercountry adoption.  You see, a few months before I had visited Tanzania for the first time.  The point of the visit was to help build an orphanage for children in Arusha, the country’s capital.  On the way home, while standing in Dulles Airport’s immigration line, I struck up a conversation with a white American woman who was holding a darker looking infant.  Turns out, this woman was returning from Ethiopia – having just spent time there finalizing the adoption of the baby she was holding. Earlier, during the trip, I learned that one of the reasons for the dire need of orphanages (the non-profit I volunteered with had plans to build several) was because the country did not allow foreigners to adopt children.  Considering that in light of the joy I saw on the mother’s face in Dulles, I was convinced that the policy was wrong.  A few months later, during my time at the University of Texas, I set out to make the case. I was convinced that all I had to do was show policymakers (in Tanaznia and other countries) that the best solution to the “problem” of unadopted children would be to allow any child in need in one country to be paired with waiting and eager potential parents – either inside or outside of that country’s borders.

But of course, the truth is not that simple.

During my nine months researching the issue I learned much about the perils, pitfalls, and purpose of intercountry, interracial, and intercultural adoption.  I read stories of children from countries in the global South – where they are in the racial majority –  being brought, as infants, to America – where they become a racial minority – and the resulting alienation that they frequently feel.  As a biracial woman, I could relate.

I researched statistics about the adoption industry in many of these countries and the evidence that, in some extreme cases, children are taken from their family of origin to feed an ever-growing demand that shifted US based intercountry adoption from one done in a spirit of service (i.e., to help children orphaned by war and conflict) to a framework of consumerism (i.e., families pursuing intercountry adoptions because of their longing for children and the frequent perception that foreign adoptions were more accessible).

During those nine months, I learned about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) for the first time and the heartbreaking stories that required its passages. I was reminded that seemingly neutral, objective standards (like “the best interest of the child”) can be turned into a sword coated with prejudice and misconceptions and wielded to decimate an untold number of indigenous families, right here. In America.  I discovered the vanguard approach that Congress took in 1977 when passing ICWA: to hold that preserving American Indians’ culture was just as important a goal in that context.

But, in researching all of these frameworks, I also encountered stories of adoptive families, who feel incredibly enriched by the blessings of adoption and have felt supported and loved as they navigated through the often difficult questions surrounding adoption.  In short, I found a picture that was far more nuanced and ambiguous than what I expected.  And so, that’s the article that I wrote.

When I first began working on human rights issues I remember a feeling of immense satisfaction.  At last, at last, I would be on the side of angels!

Isn’t it funny how things work out?

Because by doing this work (which began, in Austin, studying human rights and family law and has grown, in West Virginia, into a commitment to examine business and human rights issues) I have come to realize just how much dichotomy, inconsistency, and struggle is present even for people who are on the same side of a fight.  And so, I applaud the work that ISS-USA is doing – helping readers to walk through the mess, embracing the fact that there are no easy answers and sitting quietly with families as they form their own peace in the chaos.

I hope their work brings comfort to you.

Read Jena’s Full Story Here!

About the Author

Jena Martin is a professor at West Virginia University College of Law. Her research is in the field of business and human rights, where she has written extensively on many issues, including the intersection of securities regulation with human rights impacts. She is the author of several articles on the subject, including “The End of the Beginning? A Comprehensive Examination of the U.N.’s Business and Human Rights Agenda” (Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law), which earned her WVU Law’s Significant Scholarship Award and “Hiding in the Light: The Misuse of Disclosure to Advance the Business and Human Rights Agenda” (Columbia University Journal of Transnational Law).

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Remote. Resilient. Reunited. https://www.iss-usa.org/remote-resilient-reunited/ Thu, 08 Sep 2022 18:40:49 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=55141 Remote. When the pandemic began, ISS-USA and our colleagues around the world quickly adapted to an all-digital, at-home work environment. We were able to ensure that states and ISS partners could continue to move in the direction of family reunification using our rapidly deployed remote home assessment tools. U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. overcame [...]

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Remote.

When the pandemic began, ISS-USA and our colleagues around the world quickly adapted to an all-digital, at-home work environment. We were able to ensure that states and ISS partners could continue to move in the direction of family reunification using our rapidly deployed remote home assessment tools. U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. overcame lockdowns, travel restrictions, limited flights, and changing itineraries in order to gain access to shelter, food, and transportation thanks to responsive return plans organized by the ISS crew in Baltimore. Our International Council meeting originally scheduled to take place in Nairobi was held in the great land of ZOOM, as was our ISS-USA internal 9 month strategic planning process.

Remote and resilient.

We encouraged each other during long days and nights while supporting HHS/OHSEPR during multiple evacuations from Wuhan, Myanmar and Afghanistan. We kept in touch bi-weekly with our colleagues around the globe by sharing the situations in our respective countries. We received critical funding when the prospect of meeting our budget looked grim. We conducted successful online fundraising campaigns. We implemented a new paid holiday in honor of Juneteenth. We talked openly about racism, fairness and how to move forward when we could not catch a break from the never-ending bad news cycle. We focused on our mission and remained hopeful, together. It was the “WE” that helped us to be resolved and resilient.

Remote, resilient and reunited.

Despite the challenges, we reunited more children with their families in 2021, served a record number of people in the U.S. Repatriation Program and laid the groundwork for a pathway to equity in permanency for cross border families. We wrapped up 2021 with a joyous face to face meeting of the ISS-USA team, a reminder that familial connections are important not only to those we serve, but to all of us who are part of the ISS family. Thanks to all who support ISS-USA! Julie Rosicky, CEO Allison Blake, Chair, Board of Directors

Check out our annual report!

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Family Reunification: Including Transnational Families https://www.iss-usa.org/family-reunification-including-transnational-families/ Thu, 30 Jun 2022 13:38:12 +0000 https://www.iss-usa.org/?p=54903 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 [...]

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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

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