ISS-USA coordinates intercountry home studies and post placement reports for the purpose of placing a child in a home or facilitating the visitation of a child overseas. Home studies are performed by trained international social workers with expertise with the language and culture of the country in which the home study is being performed. In addition to the information typically included in a home study, ISS-USA makes every effort to address the specific questions of the court or individual. Home studies often include photos of the family, their home, and the surrounding community. When a home study must be translated from another language into English, ISS-USA utlizes its multi-lingual staff and certified interpreters as needed.
When a home study is requested from someone outside the U.S. regarding the placement of a child within the U.S., it is critical to understand the distinction between child welfare cases, private child custody cases, and public child custody cases.
This is not an exhaustive description of the child welfare and custody cases processed by ISS – USA but a description of general procedures used to process these cases.
Children in the public child welfare system whether in the United States or in an ISS network country, are those children who are in some manner under the guardianship of the state or country’s child welfare program and are usually placed in foster care or residential placements for children.
Referrals most often come to ISS-USA either from a U.S. agency seeking a homestudy or other type of evaluation in another country for the purposes of permanency planning for a child/children under their guardianship, or from a foreign country seeking a home evaluation or study of a home in the United States for a child/children in their care.
A second group of referrals usually come from the ISS network requesting assistance getting custody-related evaluations on spouses living in the United States. The custody evaluation serves the purpose of helping the family and/or courts to understand the family dynamics. The evaluation and recommendations will allow for the development of an appropriate plan for custody and visitation of minor children, when such custody and visitation is in dispute between the parents. The evaluation is used to gather necessary information about the family to:
- help the court in making a decision that serves the best interests of the child and to make a ruling regarding custody and visitation;
- help families in their negotiations over custody.
Despite the referral source (court or family) and the referral questions (what is to be evaluated) all evaluations focus on these two broad issues. Although the outcome of every evaluation will be to assess the needs of the children in relation to their parents’ separation/divorce, there can be a variety of other desired outcomes from an evaluation.
ISS-USA receives two categories of custody cases from our foreign branches: Private Cases and Public Cases. Different referral sources correspond to each.
“Private” custody cases are those in which one parent is filing for the temporary or full custody of a child or children and outlining the requested visiting privileges, if any, of the other parent.
In private cases, social service involvement is initiated at the time one parent files for custody. In such cases, there have generally been no founded allegations of abuse and/or neglect regarding the children and the child(ren) will not be in foster care.
If the case involves a custody dispute between parents in a divorce type situation, the source to which the case is referred depends on the state. The case manager must consult the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) Manual for instructions for the particular state. How the state handles this type of request is usually noted in the overview of instruction on the state’s face sheet. If there is no mention of custody cases it is likely that the state does not perform custody evaluations and the case manager must then consider a private provider.
To locate a private provider, the case manager can sometimes obtain recommendations from the local ICPC office or the state’s division of family courts which may have providers listed.
Before arranging services, ask the referring ISS unit if they would like information on fee for service options. If so, contact 1-3 clinicians to discuss services and fees and provide this information to the referring branch. If the branch wishes to proceed (branches often decline at this point), make arrangements regarding payment of the service provider through the Administrative Assistant. DO NOT contact the stateside parent and tell them they are responsible for payment. Either the parent, the court or the Branch who refers the case to us will have to pay. The referring branch is responsible for determining who this will be.
If the referring branch decides to proceed and payment is arranged, call the identified clinician to discuss payment and the service request, and send the referral directly to him or her. Upon receipt of the completed homestudy, fax and mail it to the referring branch.
The ICPC is not involved in private custody cases. These cases are referred to the Family Court/ Custody Evaluations Department in each state. These contacts can be found in the most current Public Welfare Directory kept on the bookshelf in the library. In some cases, the Family Court will conduct a "courtesy evaluation" at no cost to the parent. In other instances, court evaluation departments work on a sliding scale basis.
These cases tend to fall into several categories. All are identified by the fact that the children involved are in the public welfare system (allegations have been made or the children are under agency supervision or in foster or residential care) within the U.S. or abroad. The possible categories public child custody cases fall into are as follows:
- “Public” custody type cases where the non-custodial parent provides allegations against the custodial parent that may warrant a referral to a public child welfare organization for investigation. The referral is generated by an ISS branch, affiliate or correspondent on behalf of the overseas parent or their court system for investigation of the parent in the U.S.
- Requests for home study investigations on U.S. parents or relatives by family or court systems overseas. Referrals from ISS network for home study evaluations for various purposes including possible child placement, to rule out child abuse/neglect, etc.
- Courtesy supervision of a foster child temporarily staying in the U.S.
- Request for consent to adopt. For example, a child overseas is to be adopted by a foster parent or stepparent and the consent of a parent in the U.S. is needed. Conversely, a foreign country may refer a “consent to adopt” regarding a parent in the United States whose child is being considered for adoption overseas.
IN ALL CASES IN WHICH PLACEMENT OF A CHILD ACROSS BORDERS IS BEING CONSIDERED, IMMIGRATION ISSUES MUST BE ADDRESSED EARLY TO ENSURE THAT THE CHILD WILL BE ABLE TO IMMIGRATE TO THE COUNTRY BEING CONSIDERED FOR PLACEMENT.
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