Helping Immigrant Families: Interviews with Four California Social Workers

Article excerpt

Recent shifts in immigration enforcement and the implementation of large-scale workplace raids have created panic in the immigrant community and increased fears of working with any government agency. In response to increased immigration raids, community agencies and advocates have mobilized to develop outreach materials and response plans. The role of child welfare and the courts in assisting children left behind after the raids forces child welfare agencies to become knowledgeable about state and federal polices that affect permanency planning. They must be able to navigate unfamiliar systems to facilitate parent-child reunification or identify alternative permanency arrangements in the best interest of the child.

Social workers throughout the country are often at a loss in working with the immigrant community. There is usually no agency policy about what to do with undocumented children and family, and social workers typically have little experience in placing a child with relatives living abroad. It is challenging to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services, and paying for services with limited nonfederal funds are problematic.

Additionally, relationships with foreign consulates for initiating transnational collaboration are new or nonexistent for many child welfare agencies. Four California social workers specializing in immigration issues are interviewed in this article. The advice from these seasoned professional can assist others in developing programs and policies to meet the needs of this growing population.

Olga Nassif, Children's Services Supervisor/ International Liaison Unit, Riverside County Department of Social Services

"It's important to begin work immediately with the Mexican consulate and the Mexican child welfare agency (DIF) to apply for dual citizenship when placing a U.S. citizen child with relatives abroad. Similar to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, all education, health, and vital records should be transferred. You don't want a child to not enroll in school or not get services because of missing records."

About Riverside County: With a large influx of Los Angeles commuters moving to Riverside to take advantage of its affordable housing, Riverside is one of the fastest growing counties in Southern California. Hispanics constitute about 40% of the population. There are approximately 5,400 children in care in Riverside County.

Can you describe your International Liaison Unit? There are two service assistants and a supervisor who form this unit and we serve as secondary on cases. All our staff is bilingual, we have a list of all court-certified child welfare staff available to translate in different languages in our agency, and we use a translating agency.

The International liaison Unit notifies the consulates when their nationals are involved with the juvenile system and processes requests for home studies, birth certificates, parent locator, criminal record clearance, and other related services. Our unit also works on repatriation when it is in the best interest of the child. We have 10 social workers designated to travel for placement of children with relative placements abroad. These social workers prepare the repatriation packet and transport and place children in foreign countries, as well as when children are repatriated back to the U.S. from foreign countries.

Since 90% of our cases involve Mexico, we have formed a close relationship with the Mexican consulate, Mexican child welfare agencies, and the U.S. embassies in Mexico. Since 2003, we served the Consulate of Mexico a total of 1,232 families and repatriated 96 children. We work with the Office of Refugee Resettlement on cases involving refugee youth.

What advice do you have for agencies doing this work? The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 requires states verify citizenship or immigration status of any child in foster care under the responsibility of the state. …