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Undercounted, Underserved: Immigrant and Refugee Families in the Child Welfare System

NCJ Number
Yali Lincroft; Jena Resner
Date Published
52 pages
This report identifies and discusses the needs of immigrant and refugee children in America's child welfare system.
A large percentage of families involved with the child welfare system are Hispanic, and interviews with frontline social workers suggest that many of them are immigrants. Throughout the child welfare system, there are not enough interpretation/translation services or bilingual staff members at all levels. There is also a lack of culturally relevant services, such as parenting classes and drug treatment programs in appropriate languages that immigrant parents need to fulfill case plan requirements. Cultural norms and child-rearing practices differ from those in the United States. Many refugees and immigrants come from countries where corporal punishment is generally accepted and Western parenting styles are deemed too permissive. Poor immigrant families may lack access to key Federal income and employment supports. The passage of welfare reform and immigration reform in 1996 severely restricted certain immigrants' access to government services during their first 5 years as a legal immigrant. Many immigrants also believe that receiving public benefits will lead to a "public charge" label that could affect their ability to become lawful permanent residents, become citizens, or sponsor their family members. This report offers recommendations on promising practices for addressing the child welfare needs of immigrants and refugees, as well as guidelines for working with special populations. The findings and recommendations of this report come from a literature review; interviews with child welfare workers, immigration attorneys, adoptive parents, foster youth, advocates, staff of community-based agencies, researchers, and policymakers; and a consultative session with national experts and child welfare practitioners. Appended relevant legislation and child welfare policies, 52 references, additional resources, and 117 notes