April 01, 2015

When an Immigrant Parent is Detained or Deported: Child Welfare Best Practices

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Child welfare professionals have new guidance on best practices to safeguard children when a parent is detained or deported. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released an Information Memorandum (IM),  February 20, 2015. 

Key practices include:

  • Ensure the child is in a child welfare placement for appropriate reasons and parental rights are not wrongly disrupted or terminated.
  • Help the child’s parent(s) participate in family meetings, case planning, and court proceedings, even when the parent or legal guardian is detained. Involvement strategies include: 

    • Coordinate with the local ICE field office to protect parents’ interests in child welfare proceedings by:

      • Placing parents as close as possible to their children

      • Arranging for parents’ transportation to court hearings

      • Arranging alternative ways for parents to participate in court hearings

      • Facilitating visits with children

    • Provide language assistance and interpretation services to children and family members with limited English proficiency to ensure clear communication and avoid discrimination.

  • Educate courts and providers about the unique needs of immigrant families. Explain the child’s circumstances, including that a parent is detained or removed to avoid assumptions about parental abandonment or lack of interest.

  • Consider “compelling reasons” to extend termination of parental rights filing timelines. These include the impact of detention or removal on parents’ ability to maintain connections with their children.

  • Ensure child welfare agency decisions and permanency goals are in the child’s best interests by communicating regularly with ICE field staff, foreign consulates, courts, providers, and families.  Communications should address child welfare requirements, parent circumstances, and options for relief. 

  • Train caseworkers on immigration issues in child welfare cases, culturally sensitive services, access to services and benefits, and challenges of immigration enforcement.
  • Partner with immigrant advocacy groups, faith and community-based groups, and state and federal government agencies that serve immigrants. Work together to share services and supports to meet the needs of immigrant children and families. 

  • Tap immigrant networks to share information and resources, and coordinate efforts to recruit foster and kinship caregivers, remove barriers preventing immigrant relatives from becoming kinship guardians, and promote foster family resources.

  • Place immigrant families in leadership roles in the child welfare system, such as “parent partner programs” that give them opportunities to influence child welfare policy and practice.

Claire Chiamulera is CLP’s editor. 


More Federal Guidance

The IM also encourages following these two sources of guidance:

Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Activities, an August 2013 directive by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. The directive outlines duties of ICE staff to ensure immigration enforcement efforts do not wrongly infringe on parental rights of immigrant parents or legal guardians. 

Emerging Child Welfare Practice Regarding Immigrant Children in Foster Care: Collaborations with Foreign Consulates, a December 2013 Issue Brief by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The issue brief describes how child welfare agencies can work with foreign consulates.