The immigration policy changes made thus far by the Trump Administration may, in some states, fuel a surge in the number of children who enter foster care, according to a new report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC).
The report details the ways shifting policies and rhetoric around immigration are affecting child welfare and offers tips for social workers engaging with immigrant communities in both California and nationally.
“Due to broad immigration enforcement priorities and increased deportations, more children are at risk of entering the child welfare system due to a parent or a caregiver being detained or deported,” the Dec. 2017 report says.
An estimated 5 million children in the U.S. live with at least one undocumented immigrant parent or caregiver, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Migration Policy Institute. With deportations increasing, the San Francisco-based ILRC recommends that undocumented parents create family preparedness plans that legally designate an alternative caregiver so kids don’t land in the child welfare system if their parents are deported.
The report also points to the federal-level protections in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Parental Interests Directive, which seeks to ensure that “immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt parental rights” and includes requirements that ICE facilitate detained parents’ participation in court proceedings and court-ordered visitations with their children.
It also requires that ICE, in the case of permanent deportation, allows a parent time to establish a care plan for their children.
This directive is currently under review by the Trump administration, according to the report, but “remains an important advocacy tool … to minimize disruptions of families in immigration enforcement.”
Today’s immigration climate presents a special challenge to child welfare personnel working within immigrant communities. According to the report, increased immigration enforcement results in immigrants being afraid to interact with local authorities, including child welfare workers.
“If immigrants are fearful of cooperating with child welfare workers, children may be exposed to increased risk, and situations may escalate unnecessarily,” the report says.
The report suggests that child welfare workers keep immigration status confidential and that helping families with their immigration needs is “incredibly important to the child’s long-term stability.”
In California, the 2013 Reuniting Immigrant Families Act aims to ensure immigration status does not impede families’ kinship care and reunification efforts.
The ILRC report highlights that under California law, relatives cannot be disqualified as foster caregivers based on immigration status alone, and child welfare agencies are required to accept foreign passports and consular cards for people who do not have U.S. government issued identification. Child welfare agencies are also encouraged to cooperate with foreign consulates to ease reunification efforts with deported parents.
The law further mandates the state Department of Social Services (DSS) to assist child welfare agencies in helping eligible children apply for special visas or protected immigration status.
There is little in the way of good data on the number of children in foster care due to deportations and other immigration enforcement proceedings. In 2011, the group Race Forward estimated that the number was “at least 5,100.”
Read the report here.