Saturday, June 02, 2007

What are the "whys" behind these statistics?

This week, I met a young man who had moved to my state from California. He was Latin American. His English was broken; his family even more so. He was 19 years old, and had been out on his own since he was 14.

Afraid of entering the California foster care system, he had joined a gang and they became his substitute family. However, by moving several states over to obtain a lucrative construction job, he had now lost contact with his friends, and was looking to make local connections.

He asked me to look up his gang and see if they had any local presence in my city. They did not (and I was secretly glad about that fact). Then, he asked me to look up his family members – but his surname did not appear in any online phone books or databases.

“Oh, I know why!” he said, “It’s because they are illegal.”

According to research, 81% of young children of immigrants live with a non-citizen parent, and almost 50% live with an undocumented parent. If those families break down, it’s hard to find a safety net in this strange new country.

Newly published research from Urban Institute's Child Welfare Research Program reveals that Latin American immigrant children are three times more likely to enter the foster care system because of sexual abuse.

When I read this information, my first question was, “Why?”

1.) Is it because Latin American immigrants are afraid to report abuse in other cases, because many immigrant households are made up of both citizens and non-citizens, and they fear government scrutiny?

That must be a tough decision to make: Save a child and be deported. Stay in this country and allow a child to suffer. Add that to distrust of the United States foster care system, and you have a recipe for secrecy when it comes to neglect and physical abuse.

In fact, as a whole, Latin American children are under-represented in the U.S. foster care system, in contrast with other minority groups which tend to be overrepresented.

2.) Are these children unaccompanied minors? Runaways are more vulnerable to sexual abuse because they are older, unsupervised and need basic necessities like food and shelter.

3.) Does this higher statistic point to the commercial sexploitation of children? According to John Miller, the U.S. Ambassador, as many as 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.

Once Latin American immigrant children enter foster care, it is unlikely that they will be placed with relatives (8%). Nor will the state where they reside be reimbursed by the federal government for helping them. Title IV-E funding is the largest source of federal support for state welfare services – and, due to federal restruations, only 5% of Latin American immigrant child are eligible.

Source: Child Welfare Research Program: Identifying Immigrant Families Involved in Child Welfare Systems, Findings from Texas, 2007.

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I learned recently at a Colorado judicial conference that it is possible to obtain a special immigration waiver (like a green card) for a dependent child.

But it can be difficult to find an attorney to take the case, so the agency would be wise to contract with an immigration attorney.

However, if the child enters legal guardianship in probate court, this cuts off contact with his/her mother permanently (e.g. she can't visit from another country).

These issues matter to me because my state has attracted an influx of immigrants from Somalia.

Parents face many cultural issues, including the fact that historically Somali was an oral and not a written language, the lack of translators (especially in terms of specific dialect), and are ill-equipped to navigate a system that is completely foreign to them.
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