Children and their families – disproportionately children and families of color – come to the attention of the child welfare agency due to allegations of abuse and neglect. When the allegations are substantiated and ongoing intervention is deemed necessary to support the safety of the child, child welfare agencies work with the family to mitigate safety and risk concerns. While we know that children do best when they are with their families, sometimes due to safety concerns children must temporarily enter foster care. While a great deal of attention has recently been paid to the impact of the opioid crisis on driving more children into foster care, there has been a lack of awareness about the impact of current immigration policies – both real and perceived – and the resulting potential to drive children and youth from immigrant and mixed-status families into contact with the child welfare system.
Under the current administration there has been an ongoing attack through oppressive policies on immigrant and mixed-status families and their children. These policies include changes in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities, increased data sharing between the Office of Refugee Resettlement and ICE and leaked information on potential changes to what can be considered in public charge determinations.
As new immigration policies have been implemented, proposed and leaked, the Administration has not acknowledged the detrimental impact these policy changes have on the health, safety and well-being of families and children – and consequently, their potential involvement with child welfare. Nearly half of families (47 percent) who have their children removed from their homes have trouble paying for basic necessities, and with data showing the withdrawal of immigrant families from enrollment in critical programs due to fear of having information shared with immigration officials, the leaked proposed changes to public charge guidance may result in many more families falling into poverty.
Specifically, parents and providers are already reporting higher rates of food insecurity due to lower SNAP enrollment and renewals, lower rates of enrollment in public health insurance (e.g., Medicaid and CHIP) and lower rates of enrollment, attendance and parent participation in early care and education programs. Given that the leaked proposed changes to public charge guidance pit a family’s choice to access concrete supports and services that promote health and well-being in direct competition with their future ability to gain lawful permanent residency, we are likely to see more immigrant families struggle to meet their basic needs and finding themselves in situations where they and their children – both immigrant and citizen children – come to the attention of child welfare.
Simply becoming known to the child welfare system could have devastating impacts on immigrant and mixed-status families and their children since, simply due to their immigration status, once involved with child protective services, families may be afraid or unable to access necessary supports or services that would support their ability to remain together safely or achieve reunification if children have to enter foster care.
We know that children do best when they can safely remain with their families. However, recent policy proposals directly attack the safety net of support for immigrant and mixed-status families and may put their children at risk of experiencing circumstances of neglect. During National Foster Care Month, it is important that child welfare systems and advocates recognize the detrimental impact of these immigration policies and identify solutions for supporting immigrant and mixed-status families in accessing needed supports and services so that they can remain together and their children do not unnecessarily have to enter foster care.
CSSP is an Active Member of the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Campaign organized to protect and defend access to concrete supports and services for immigrants and their families at the local, state and federal level. To learn more about the Campaign, the proposed changes to public charge guidance and what you can do to support immigrant and mixed status families, please visit this website or contact Alexandra Citrin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Alexandra Citrin is a senior policy analyst at CSSP.