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July/August 2024Vol. 25, No. 6Study Examines Models for Supporting Immigrant Families in Child Welfare

Child welfare agencies can face challenges meeting the complex needs of immigrant families. This population has grown steadily in the United States over the last several decades, and while there is no systemwide approach to effectively serving immigrant families, many jurisdictions have implemented programs and models at the local level. A recent study by the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare examines some of these models and highlights key components and models so that they can be adapted in other jurisdictions.

The study, “An Examination of Child Welfare Agency Models That Serve Immigrant Children and Families,” was published in March 2024. Researchers collected information from child welfare professionals from seven different agencies in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. Each one-on-one interview focused on 10 domains to capture key components of child welfare practice with immigrant families:

  1. Structure of the immigration model and staffing
  2. Citizenship determination
  3. Consular notification
  4. Communication with family members
  5. Legal screening
  6. Trafficking
  7. Unaccompanied minors
  8. International reunification and repatriation
  9. Parent in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention
  10. Translation and interpretation services

After analyzing interview results, researchers identified three main themes:

  1. Specialization of immigrant-related knowledge and skill sets: Many jurisdictions in the study had staff with specialized expertise in serving immigrant families. These specialized staff were either in the form of a specialized office or unit, dedicated staff members, or bilingual staff.
  2. Formal and informal relationships with consulates and external partners: Study participants highlighted the importance of working with consulates and community providers. The benefits of these partnerships included support obtaining documentation, engaging parents who are detained by ICE, and addressing legal needs and challenges.
  3. Creative and innovative approaches to engaging immigrant families: Approaches include committing extra time to rapport and trust building, being culturally informed, and maintaining connections across international borders.

Read the full study, published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, for more details about each of the three themes as well as study limitations and directions for future research.