Serving Immigrant Families and Children in New York City's Child Welfare System

By Chahine, Zeinab; van Straaten, Justine | Child Welfare, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview
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Serving Immigrant Families and Children in New York City's Child Welfare System

Chahine, Zeinab, van Straaten, Justine, Child Welfare

This article describes the efforts and special initiatives of New York City's Administration for Children's Services to improve services to immigrant and English language learner populations. Children's Services convened an immigration issues advisory subcommittee, created special tools for child welfare staff, collaborated with legal agencies to assist foster children with immigration status adjustments, improved agency data collection, and launched an agency-wide training initiative on immigration issues. The challenges encountered by Children's Services offer important insight for child welfare agencies in other jurisdictions designing strategies to strengthen their services for immigrant communities.

Immigrants constitute approximately 12% of the United States' current population (Center for Immigration Studies, 2004). New York City is currently the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the number of foreign-born residents has increased by more than 800,000 in the past decade alone. The 2000 Census further reports that 35.9% of New York City residents, or 2,871,032, are foreign-born (Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, 2004). The increasing diversity in New York City, as well as throughout the United States, places new significance on the need for immigration-specific resources and culturally competent services.

New York City's recent efforts to improve service delivery and access to immigrants and limited English-speaking New Yorkers included both Executive Order No. 41 and New York City Local Law 73, which protect immigration status as confidential information and enhance access to city services to people speaking languages other than English (Bloomberg, 2003; Council Int. No. 38-A, NY City Code, tit. 8, §10010 -1010,2003). Families whose primary language is not English pose a special challenge to child protective staff and the child welfare system in general. Inabilities of child welfare staff to communicate effectively with immigrant families who do not speak English may affect their capacity to conduct child protective investigations, assess safety and risk, and engage families in culturally relevant services. Advocacy groups historically have raised concerns about enhancing the city's ability to meet the needs of immigrant communities, especially relating to child welfare services. This article describes the comprehensive efforts of New York City Administration for Children's Services (Children's Services, for short) and its successful partnership with immigrant advocacy organizations to develop the necessary tools, resources, and training for the child welfare system to serve New York City's diverse communities in the best manner.


Three years ago, representatives from Children's Services and immigrant advocacy organizations formed a group to discuss concerns of the immigrant community. Recognizing the importance of immigration and language access issues in the child welfare system, Children's Services later established this group as an official subcommittee of their Advisory Board. As a group, the advisory subcommittee created a set of tools to assist child welfare staff in working with immigrant and limited English-speaking children and families, collaborated with immigration advocates to facilitate processing of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status applications for foster children, analyzed various computer system qualifiers to identify improved mechanisms for collecting data on immigrant and limited English-speaking populations, and launched a training initiative on immigration and language issues to improve service delivery. Children's Services also designed a comprehensive, citywide language access plan in accordance with Local Law 73 to improve access to child welfare services to all New Yorkers.

Children's Services Subcommittee on Immigration and Language Issues

The Children's Services Subcommittee on Immigration and Language Issues was cochaired by a senior official from Children's Services and a member of an immigrant advocacy organization.

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Serving Immigrant Families and Children in New York City's Child Welfare System


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