Position Statement

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Child Welfare Services and Humane Treatment of Children and Immigrant Families

American Humane believes that child welfare services should be available to all children, regardless of their immigration status or the status of their parents. Immigrant children and children from immigrant families who are involved in the child protection or child welfare system must be afforded services that will address their need for safety, permanency and well-being. Federal, state and local policies should encourage full integration of immigrant families into U.S. society by expanding access to child welfare services.

Professionals serving this vulnerable population must become better-informed about cultural considerations, immigration laws and best practices. It is critical that agencies address their communities’ perceptions of immigrant children’s and families’ abilities and legal rights to access services. Agency actions should also address other social issues that impact immigrant families in unique ways, such as: 

  • Domestic violence
  • Child abandonment and exploitation
  • Housing, food and medical services availability
  • Availability of culturally and linguistically relevant services

American Humane also strongly advocates for humane policies and protections for children and families impacted by immigration investigations, arrests and detention. The effects of separating families should be considered in planning and providing services to families affected by documentation status issues. These are essential components to ensuring that individuals, families and all members of the community remain stable and healthy.

Immigrant parents and their children represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Currently, there are between 11 and 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and 5 million children who are U.S. citizens with at least one undocumented parent. And while immigrants are 11 percent of the total U.S. population, children of immigrants make up 22 percent of the 23.4 million children under age 6 in the United States (Capps, Fix, Ost, Reardon-Anderson, & Passel, 2005).

Children of immigrants represent one of the most vulnerable populations and one of the least likely groups to receive the services for which they are legally eligible. These children are increasingly at risk for separation from their parents and other consequences because of increased national attention to undocumented immigration and worksite raids. When parents are detained or deported, their children are often left without consistent and permanent caregivers.

Special provisions to protect particularly vulnerable immigrant populations are being incorporated into practices and programs. Unaccompanied minors, among the most vulnerable immigrant populations, are at high risk of exploitation and abuse. Each year, thousands of unaccompanied alien children seek entry to the United States, but only a fraction of those children remain in the country.

“Since fiscal year 2001, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has annually apprehended an average of 100,000 undocumented minors. Approximately 7,000 of them are placed in federal custody each year” (Haddal, 2007). Many of these children have special needs due to abuse incurred. Battered immigrant women and their children have faced unique legal challenges as they struggle for safety and permanence in this country.

The rapidly evolving child welfare field increasingly needs to work effectively with immigration professionals and understand practices, policies and laws. Immigration status carries varied entitlements to benefits, services, eligibility and legal rights, and the actions of caseworkers and supervisors can enable or impede family reunification and access to local, state, federal and transnational resources.


Capps, R., Fix, M. E., Ost, J., Reardon-Anderson, J., & Passel, J. S. (2005). The health and well-being of young children of immigrants. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Haddal, C. C. (2007, March 1). Unaccompanied alien children: Policies and issues. (Congressional Research Report). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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