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June 2013Vol. 14, No. 5The Migration and Child Welfare National Network

By Alan Dettlaff, Ph.D., M.S.W., University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work

When children in immigrant families become involved in the child welfare system, they often face unique and complex challenges that need to be addressed by child welfare agencies to facilitate positive outcomes. Yet, child welfare professionals may lack the information or resources necessary to address the challenges that arise when immigration issues become barriers to achieving positive outcomes.

The Migration and Child Welfare National Network (MCWNN) is a coalition of individuals and organizations focused on the intersection of immigration and child welfare. The Network serves as a resource for child welfare and legal professionals providing services to immigrant children and families. MCWNN conducts and disseminates research, develops policy and practice recommendations, develops and disseminates resources for child welfare and legal professionals, and works with Federal, State, and local child welfare agencies to facilitate policy and practice improvements. MCWNN also provides a unique model of peer-to-peer consultation in which members learn from the experience and expertise of others, share knowledge and strategies, and participate in collaborative efforts to improve services for immigrant children and families.

MCWNN members receive bimonthly electronic newsletters containing resources and information from member agencies and have access to a wealth of local, State, and Federal expertise. Current resources available at the MCWNN website include:

  1. Practice Toolkits: These toolkits provide resources and information for child welfare and legal professionals working with immigrant children and families in the child welfare system. Toolkits are available that provide a summary of immigration status and relief options that may be available for immigrant children in foster care, a child welfare flowchart that explores the immigration issues that may arise at each stage of a child welfare case, and guidelines for integrating trauma-informed practices into child welfare services with immigrant children and families.
  2. Legal and Policy Briefs: This series of briefs examines the challenges that arise when the immigration and child welfare systems intersect, and provides policy recommendations on how the two systems can work together to better protect the interests of children and families. The most recent brief in this series reviews State appellate court decisions that have involved immigration issues in child welfare cases. For each case, a summary of the appellate court opinion is presented, along with implications for child welfare and legal systems.
  3. Research Briefs: These briefs report findings from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW) on the characteristics, risk factors, and types of maltreatment in cases involving children of immigrants in the child welfare system. These briefs represent the first national data available on the presence of children of immigrants in this system. Additional research briefs focusing on the unique needs of this vulnerable population will be released in the coming months. 
  4. State Policies and Examples: This extensive collection of example policies and procedures from State and county child welfare agencies across the country is one of the most widely accessed resources of the MCWNN. Resources include Memoranda of Understanding with foreign consulates, policies on placement of children with undocumented relatives, procedural guides on accessing forms of immigration relief, and policies and procedures on placement of children outside the United States. These examples are provided as resources to other States to assist in developing or improving their services to this population.

In addition to these resources, the MCWNN website collects training materials and conference presentations conducted by MCWNN members, as well as an archive of the Network's electronic newsletter.

The MCWNN is housed at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. Membership in the MCWNN is free and all MCWNN resources are available to the public via the MCWNN website. Additional information and all of the resources described here are available at