On Friday February 20, 2015, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) issued an information memorandum entitled “Case Planning and Service Delivery for Families with Parental and Legal Guardians who are Detained or Deported by Immigration Enforcement.” This new guidance will help ensure that state and local child welfare agencies will be better able to meet the needs of children in immigrant families, including those that come from mixed-status families, and improve the ability of children to reunite with detained or deported parents and stay connected to their family.

Often immigrant children and families are caught in a web of systems and policies that don’t work together. For example, confusing immigrant eligibility rules can result in eligible individuals, such as U.S. citizen and lawfully present children, from accessing critical benefits that they are entitled to. And immigration status as well as immigration enforcement measures can have severe consequences for children and families involved in systems like U.S. child welfare system or juvenile justice system. For example, lack of communication between the immigration enforcement system and the child welfare system can result in the inappropriate termination of parental rights in cases when detained or deported parents lack the opportunity to make decisions regarding their child’s care following their apprehension or to participate in the child welfare process. In some cases, a case worker or family court judge may not place a child with an undocumented parent or relative or send a U.S. citizen child outside of the country to reunite with a parent or other relative caregiver due to systemic bias against undocumented parents.

In response to pressure from advocates regarding the costly impact of immigration enforcement on families involved in the child welfare system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a policy known as the “parental interest directive” in August of 2013. The ICE directive is aimed at ensuring that parents who are detained or deported are able to make decisions regarding their child’s care, participate in the child welfare process as well as relevant court proceedings, and receive assistance in making arrangements for their children at the time of deportation. The directive also allows for the limited use of humanitarian parole for parents outside the U.S. to temporarily return to attend a termination of parental rights hearing.

The new guidance released last week by ACF will help ensure that state and local child welfare agencies understand their role in ensuring the successful implementation of the ICE parental interest directive. In addition to explaining the purpose and provisions of the directive, the ACF guidance also includes additional guidance and resources on best practices for serving children living in mixed-status families, including the following:

  • Serving unaccompanied children who come to the attention of the state child welfare system;
  • Immigration relief options for immigrant children in foster care, including Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS);
  • Ensuring that child welfare staff receive training in culturally competent practices, including adoption of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards (CLAS Standards);
  • Developing Memoranda of Understanding with foreign consulates to facilitate case planning involving children or parents who are nationals of another country;
  • Partnering with immigrant-serving, faith-based, and other advocacy organizations to promote coordinate of services to meet the needs of immigrant communities;
  • Developing legal referrals for children and parents who may be eligible for immigration relief; and
  • Prioritizing immigration status issues in permanency planning to so as to promote reunification with parents and family, including considering a parent’s detention or deportation as a potential compelling factor that might warrant exception to the current time period for filing for termination of parental rights.

The First Focus Center for the Children of Immigrants has been working to develop and advocate for cross-sector policies that meet the needs of children in immigrant families. Immigrant children and families are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to the harmful unintended consequences of policies that neglect to address their specific needs. Efforts like these to bridge two very different systems are a good example of what can happen when two agencies work together to improve outcomes for all children.

For more information on this issue and the new guidance please visit: