DFCS reunites children with mother across borders

October 3, 2018

ATLANTA – Three children are back with their mother, and a fourth will be reunited with her after recovering from an emergency treatment for appendicitis, thanks to efforts by the Division of Family and Children Services in collaboration with the Honduran Consulate.

Their mother was living in another state when she was deported, sending the children to live with a relative in the Gainesville, Ga., area. They came to the attention of the Division last year when the relative they were living with was found to be maltreating them and struggled to keep them all fed, clothed and cared for because of the financial strains.

“The first case manager assigned began working to locate the mother in Honduras right away,” said Latisha Flesher, the Division’s Hall County director. “Skype phone calls occurred with the mother frequently, and the case manager began partnering with the Honduran Consulate for purposes of vetting the mother and working toward reunification.”

In the meantime, Flesher’s team found a foster home with the NECCO agency, which took in all four children and avoided the trauma of separating them.

Of the three boys and one girl, the oldest were citizens of Honduras and eligible immediately for Honduran travel documents for their journey home.  But since the youngest was born in Utah, and is a U.S. citizen, getting him a U.S. passport for the trip meant obtaining his birth certificate from Utah to send along with the passport application.

All the travel documents came together Sept. 21, and the Division secured travel arrangements for all four children and two Hall County case managers who already had passports, Milagros Cruz and Claudia Goodwin.

Monday, the six were ready for their flight to Honduras when the little girl’s medical emergency forced her to miss the plane. She’ll be taken home as soon as doctors say she’s ready to travel in about six weeks.

Since the travel documents are only valid for two more weeks and the plane tickets had been purchased, Flesher decided to give the go-ahead and get the boys home to their mother.

“Trying to reunite a family over these distances is more complicated than our usual case, so I’m proud of the cooperation we got from the Honduran officials and the work of my staff to get these children back with their mother,” she said.

The international community in Georgia is growing steadily, with more than 50 consulates and nationals of dozens of countries. The Division serves people speaking more than 100 languages.

The agency is currently launching an outreach initiative in Gwinnett County to establish ties with the informal leaders of the various international communities living there, one of the most diverse counties in the United States.

And the Division is seeking memoranda of understanding with the consulates serving Georgia to ensure smooth cooperation.

“We must keep up with the increasingly international nature of Georgia so we are prepared to safeguard children and strengthen families from wherever they come and whatever language they speak,” said Tom Rawlings, interim director of the Division’s statewide operation.

Rawlings is fluent in Spanish and has worked internationally to improve child protection systems, including service as Guatemala field office director for the International Justice Mission.

When a child comes into the state’s custody for any reason, the Division has responsibility for ensuring he or she will be going to a safe home with sufficient resources to feed, clothe and protect the child. Efforts are made to house children with relatives whenever possible, which means relying on the social workers of other countries in international cases.

“Cross-border cooperation is critical to assuring that we are putting children in good homes,” Rawlings said. “We can do that by partnering with the international community and the many representatives of the diplomatic corps here in Atlanta.”