International Family Finding: Quick Tips for Finding Relatives Across the
The Fostering Connections Act requires “due diligence to identify and provide notice
to all adult grandparents and other adult relatives” within 30 days after removal of a
child. The notice provision creates opportunities for child welfare systems to find
relatives living outside the United States with whom children have strong ties.
Increasingly, child welfare agencies are seeking strategies to locate and engage
relatives across international boundaries.
Nationally, almost ten percent of children who come to the attention of child welfare
systems are living with a foreign-born primary caregiver (including 8.6 percent who
live with a foreign-born parent).1 Although child welfare data are lacking, national
immigration trends indicate that a growing number of children in foster care are
themselves immigrants or the children or immigrants. These trends create
challenges for child welfare agencies. From 2007 to 2009, for example, New Jersey’s
Department of Children and Families requested international assistance with
hundreds of child welfare cases involving a total of 55 countries.
Challenges. In many respects, policies and practices that promote permanency have
not kept pace with the number and complexity of cases involving children with
inter-country ties. Language and cultural differences can create barriers to
identification, location, and engagement of kin. Often, family and friends in this
country who are immigrants are afraid to provide information to government
agencies. Once family members in other countries are found, agencies and the
courts must find ways to navigate unfamiliar social service and legal systems to
achieve safe and permanent placements.
Family finding practices. Agencies report that to identify relatives in other
countries, they start with commonly-used family finding strategies--such as
interviews with parents, children, and those who know the family, file mining, and
Consulate connections. Some jurisdictions, including Illinois, Sacramento County,
and Denver, have developed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Mexican
consulates to help identify and locate relatives. Public child welfare agencies in San
Francisco, Denver and other sites have developed relationships with liaisons within
their local Mexican consulates who help find and contact relatives.
Use of an intermediary. Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts,
New Jersey and Virginia are among the U.S. jurisdictions that contract (either
1Dettlaff, A. J. and I Earner. Children of Immigrants in the Child Welfare System: Findings from the
National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. Migration and Child Welfare National Network.
annually or on a fee-for-service basis) with International Social Service-United
States of America Branch (ISS-USA) for family finding and other child welfare
services involving children or families outside the U.S. With branches and bureaus
in 110 countries, ISS-USA social workers team with social workers in other
countries to find relatives, determine if they are able and willing to provide a
permanent home for the child, complete home studies and other requirements, and
oversee the case until permanency is achieved.
International Family Finding Demonstration Project in New Jersey
International family finding services are being developed and implemented for all
children in foster care in New Jersey who have potential kinship placement outside
the United States. A discretionary grant authorized by the Fostering Connections
Act was awarded in 2009 to ISS-USA in collaboration with the Department of
Children and Families of the State of New Jersey and the Institute for Families at the
Rutgers School of Social Work.
To learn more, see:
[Or link to ISS-USA one-pager attached.]
The Hague Convention: Implications for Inter-Country Placements with Kin
Adopted by 83 countries to date, the Hague Convention is an international
agreement that establishes standards and practices to regulate and safeguard inter-
country adoption. A family member in a Hague Convention country who wishes to
adopt a child must go through the country’s designated Central Authority. To avoid
subsequent disruption and permanency delays, U.S. child welfare agencies should
inform the family of this requirement before the child is placed in any form of care
with the family. Only agencies accredited through their central authorities are
permitted to assist with inter-country adoption between Hague Convention
For more information about the Hague Convention, see:
The Arthur C. Helton Institute for the Study of International Social Service (a
program of ISS-USA) operates a free, on-line inquiry service for technical questions
about international child welfare issues:
Or visit the ISS-USA website at: www.iss-usa.org .