June marks National Reunification Month, a time when agencies are celebrating successful efforts to reunify children with their families. It’s widely recognized that whenever possible and safe, the best home for a child is with his or her family. International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) believes this is true regardless of where the family resides.
At ISS-USA, intercountry case managers work to reunite US-born children with relatives in other countries, foreign-born children with relatives in the US, and immigrant children separated from their families during a migration. ISS-USA also supports efforts to reunify children with a parent in another state.
While these reunifications are important to celebrate, it is worth noting the process and hard work the reunification entails. Often when a child enters the child welfare system, efforts to identify, assess, and reunite with family require communication and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, including across state and country borders. Here is an example of this process from a case ISS-USA worked on:
Anya was 7 year old in the care of the Portuguese social service system. Her father, a US citizen, was living in New Jersey with his parents. ISS-USA conducted a home study with him to make sure his home was safe and helped him obtain court-ordered drug testing and a psychological evaluation. The case worker also conducted a community resource assessment, highlighting local area resources that would help Anya acclimate to her new home. Upon receiving a positive report, the Portuguese court granted custody to Anya’s father and he flew to Portugal to bring her home. Once back in New Jersey, Anya and her father received visits from the social worker every over month to make sure she was adapting well to her new environment.
For children separated from family at the US border with Mexico, reunification is often carried out without any preparation and little notice. ISS-USA has been awarded funds to support the pre-departure planning and reunification of children with their families in Guatemala and Honduras. Here is an example of a case in which a child was separated from her father at the border:
Rosalie was six years old when she traveled from Guatemala with her father to the US, but they were separated at the border and he was immediately deported. A pro-bono attorney working on Rosalie’s case referred her family to ISS-USA for safe repatriation planning. A local social worker visited Rosalie’s family to understand their situation and needs. On the day Rosalie returned to Guatemala, the social worker supported the cost of travel from their rural community to the airport and worked with local officials to ensure Rosalie would be released to her parents. A week later, the social worker traveled to their home to bring essential items, including school uniforms and supplies. She enrolled Rosalie and her younger brother in school, helped them get check-ups at a local clinic, and helped their father with a career transition. Six months later, the family reported feeling thankful and supported.
Celebrating reunification means celebrating the efforts that parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other fictive kin who care deeply for children must undertake to achieve reunification. Whether it’s participating in family-based interventions to allow for a child to safely remain with his or her caregiver, undergoing a variety interviews and assessments, or attending multiple court hearings in a different time zone or language, reunification can be a long, invasive and often expensive process. This month we honor all those who are working tirelessly to give children permanent homes with family.
To learn more about ISS-USA or to refer a case, visit our website www.iss-usa.org.