Gainesville and Hall County, because of their sizable Latino and immigrant population, could be one of the communities in Georgia to most benefit from a new partnership between the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta and the state Division of Family and Children Services.
DFCS Interim Director Tom Rawlings and Mexico’s Consul General, Javier Diaz de Leon, announced the joint effort earlier this month, describing it as a “framework for communication and cooperation on child welfare cases.”
The agreement could help more quickly resolve cases involving foster children from Mexican immigrant families, for example, by helping locate parents, relatives and other adults in a child’s life that might provide permanent living options, whether in Mexico or the United States.
“These and other Latino children are faced with extraordinarily difficult circumstances, such as separation that often includes much more complex reunifications and placements,” said Vanesa Sarazua, executive director of the Hispanic Alliance GA based in Gainesville. “With the support of the consulate, many more resources and flexibility can be applied to these cases, taking into account relatives locally for temporary or permanent placements.”
DFCS has agreed to allow a consular representative to interview the child when not prohibited by the courts, and the consulate is responsible for obtaining reviews of potential caretakers in Mexico.
The consulate also will assist DFCS in obtaining birth certificates, medical records and other necessary documents.
“Moreover, DFCS and the consulate are committed to working together on educational and community involvement efforts centered on the safety and well-being of Mexican families and children,” Rawlings said.
“We also see this as an opportunity for DFCS to add more safety nets like Latino foster homes to help our children that have to be placed in homes are placed in culturally appropriate homes that will lessen their trauma,” Sarazua said. “This is extremely important as some children fall through the cracks and are prey at times to crimes and abuse when circumstances of separation are due to deportation of one or both parents.”
DFCS plans to enter into similar agreements with other consulates in the coming year.
“We trust that many Mexican children and families will benefit from this ongoing partnership and hope that consulates from other countries soon get involved in similar fashion,” said Diaz de Leon.
Joe Diaz, a juvenile court judge based in Hall County, said the partnership can support the courts by helping verify and manage reunification efforts between children and parents who have been deported and voluntarily returned to Mexico.
“We don’t want to blindly send the child to another country if we’re not comfortable that the things that caused the child to be dependent are fixed, such as neglect or abuse at home,” Diaz said.
Diaz described the consulate as a potential clearinghouse to find service providers and support systems in Mexico to try to reunify “when appropriate. It not always is.”
“We can’t possibly do that in another country,” Diaz added.
The new partnership dovetails with an ongoing effort by Diaz and others to recruit Spanish-speaking households into the Hall County foster care network.
Diaz said he spoke last fall to parishioners at St. John Paul II Roman Catholic Mission in Gainesville. The church has a Latino congregation numbering in the thousands.
“As a result of those meetings, I now have 24 families signed up, interested in being foster families,” Diaz said.
It’s a promising start.
Diaz said a training session now offered in Spanish will be held later this month at the church to begin qualifying willing families to provide foster homes (the process also includes personal background checks and “home checks” to verify living conditions are safe and appropriate for children).
“That’s going to really go a long way toward addressing this need,” Diaz said.