Friday, June 22, 2018

Reuniting Families and Fostering Immigrant Children

I expressed my concerns over migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border in my last post, but I guess I'm not done because I have a few more concerns:

Concern #1: How are all of the children who have been separated from their parents going to be reunited with them?

June 20th's Executive Order will put a stop to separating families at the border but how will all of the families who have been separated be "put back together"?  It is my understanding that the U.S. government does not have any concrete plans to reunite these families.  However, I was pleased to learn that some businesses are taking a stand to prevent further separations:

-United Airlines, American Airlines, and Frontier Airlines are refusing to transport babies and children ripped from their parents; you can read about it HERE

It's refreshing to hear about businesses, organizations, and people making proactive efforts to reunite families, especially when there is so much heartache and debate surrounding this issue.  Maybe I need to take a break from watching the news or getting on social media- which leads me to my next concern:

Concern #2- Can we please stop politicizing children and come together regardless of our political party affiliation or loyalties and seek solutions for these children? 

I see the wisdom in Governor John Kasish's recent statement when he said, "This is a humanitarian crisis, so let's put politics aside, bring everyone to the table, and craft a real way forward."

I am not only concerned, but disturbed when people are more concerned about proving which administration's policy "created" the problem in the first place, rather than coming together to create solutions for these displaced children.  I think a good question for anybody who feels passionately about this crisis, including myself, should ask themselves is, "Where is my passion/anger/outrage coming from?  Am I more concerned about proving that I'm "right" or am I actively seeking solutions for displaced children or secure borders? (or whatever your biggest personal concern happens to be.)  

Perhaps I'm too idealistic or moderate, but I, for one, don't believe it's simply a dichotomy of "safe borders" versus "humane treatment for immigrants".  Both are valid concerns and not mutually exclusive.  Historically, administrations from both major U.S. political parties have enacted legislation to solve these problems.  Sometimes the legislation has been effective and other times it has created unintended consequences and more problems.

Some examples of major immigration legislation include the Flores Settlement Law, signed by Bill Clinton in 1997, which required unaccompanied minors who arrive in the U.S. to be released to their parents, a legal guardian, or an adult relative.  If there are no relatives available then a government agency appoints an appropriate adult to look after the child.  Although that particular legislation related to unaccompanied minors (versus minors traveling with family) such legislation focused on "family first".

In 2008 George Bush signed an anti-trafficking statute, The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection, which required unaccompanied minors to be transferred out of immigration centers within 72 hours.  The purpose of this bill was to protect immigrant children being brought over to the United States by sex traffickers and to provide such children a full immigration hearing (to decide if the child qualified for asylum or not).  As worthy and needful as this legislation was, it actually backfired and caused an increase in unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America (notably Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador where poverty and gang violence and crime are rampant).  This is because immigration cases are so backlogged that it could take years for a case to be heard.  In the meantime, these minors would be in limbo in the U.S.  

Fast forward to 2014 when Barack Obama tried to keep families together who crossed the border illegally into special "family detention centers".  This was a worthwhile goal but the unintended consequence was that it violated the policy of keeping children out of jail-like settings (even if they are with their parents).  A federal judge made the ruling and as a consequence, families were released into the United States pending notification of their immigration hearings.   This began the immigration policy sometimes referred to as "Catch and Release."

I use these examples to show that if one asks the question "Whose fault is this- the Republicans or  the Democrats?" you will not get a simple answer.  It's much more multi-faceted.  Both parties, under different administrations, have tried their best to deal with immigration and detention issues.  My hope is that policy makers can look into bipartisan and evidence-based practices in an attempt to discover what has worked and what has backfired and what policies or legislation will cause the least harm to children and families.

Concern #3- Reunification of displaced children and their families should take priority over adoption.

 The catchphrase and hashtag for advocates of not separating families at the U.S border is "Families Belong Together."

I am pro-family reunification IF it is in the child's best interest.  I am also pro-adoption provided it is done ethically.*

I've heard comments and concerns from those both within and outside of the foster and adoption community about how to go about fostering or possibly adopting an undocumented child (with parents or unaccompanied).  I have inserted myself into at least one of these conversations with the same information I shared back in this post:

 Which leads me to the question of:  What happens to children who are separated from their families at the border?

If I'm understanding the process correctly, These children are placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who then turns them over to their Office of Refugee Resettlement whose job is to place " unaccompanied alien children" in the "least restrictive setting that is in the best interests of the child." while the parents of the children await prosecution of federal misdemeanor charges or until they can be united with a relative or placed in a foster home.  ORR has shelters throughout the United States which are run by non-profit organizations.  
  Each state has different ways of handling things but in my state the largest agency which places refugee children into foster care does so only after an extensive search for relatives has taken place- which could take years.  Because of this, most of the children available for placement are older rather than the babies and toddlers currently detained in "Tender Age Shelters"

  I'm aware of other agencies in states like Michigan, Texas, and California who place children in more of an emergency foster placement until family can be located.  And for any who are looking into fostering an unaccompanied alien child (I'm not a fan of the term "alien" but that's the legal term), here is a snippet of FAQ page from ORR:

Concerning ethical adoption practices and displaced children, I couldn't agree more with this statement made today from Chuck Johnson, CEO of National Council for Adoption, concerning Children Being Held at the Border:

"Children who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S. border are not—nor should they be considered—candidates for adoption by American citizens. This is consistent with National Council For Adoption’s long-held position regarding the adoption of children in times of crisis, such as war, earthquakes, and other catastrophic natural or man-made disasters in which children are separated from their families.
"Adoption is only a possibility for children for whom parental rights have been terminated or for whom there is clear evidence that they are orphaned. Based on NCFA’s understanding of the status of these 2,000+ children, few, if any, meet these criteria. For those who would be eligible for adoption, there are a number of options that could provide them with permanent, family-based care. NCFA has always supported a continuum of child welfare outcomes that prioritizes (in order) family preservation, adoption by relatives, and domestic adoption in a child’s native country all before intercountry adoption options are considered. It is paramount that the identities of these children be clearly ascertained and who and where their parents are is verified.
"Our hearts are with these children and we hope that those involved in determining their futures will act with integrity, care, and compassion."
If YOU have experience advocating for or working with agencies that foster children from other countries please leave a comment or message me so that I can learn more as we seek for solutions for these vulnerable children!

 * In the event that anybody wants to leave a nasty comment or send me hate mail, save us both some time and read this first:

 I know there are anti-adoption/family preservation AT ALL COSTS critics who could make the argument, "But you've adopted- your kids didn't get to stay with their first families!"  To which I would reply, "Yes- I have adopted.  The birth mother of our oldest child went through an agency through her own free will and placed her child for adoption because it was important to her that her baby be raised in a family with a mom and a dad (among other things).  It was important to us that the agency we went through provided counseling to expectant parents considering adoption both pre- and post-placement.   

Our younger children were adopted through the foster care system after their mother relinquished her parental rights a year and a half after they were placed in our care.  During that year in a half they were in our care as foster children we supported the plan for reunification with their family and both biological parents were given more than one chance, with services provided, to get their children returned to their custody.
In addition to the children we have adopted who are no longer with their first families, we have been a resource to many other families (the majority of our foster children) in caring for their children while they work to get them back.

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