Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peter Thomas Senese. Heroes. Office Of Children's Issues. Abduction Statistics

The work conducted by the Office Of Children's Issues to help children at risk of abduction has been nothing short of heroic. This assessment is shared by many international parental child abduction stakeholders and is based upon the significant decline of reported U.S. outbound international child abductions over the past two years. While America's reported international child abduction rate has steadily declined, abduction occuring in countries around the world continues to surge - Peter Thomas Senese, Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation

For some time I have wanted to share my view about a group of individuals I consider to be heroes  due to their dedication helping children and families in crisis: the often under-appreciated, but highly dedicated individuals working at the United States Department of State's Office of Children's Issues Office (OCI) who work diligently assisting families in crisis due to abduction.  The perspective I share is one held by all members of the I CARE Foundation.

By virtue of their efforts, this remarkable team has created many miracles demonstrated by the significant decline of reported outbound American child-citizen abduction cases over the past two fiscal reporting years (2011 and 2012) while parental kidnappings in countries around the world continue to soar.

As the summer months of international parental child abduction is now upon us, we hope the sound work of OCI continues to educate targeted parents about the warning signs of abduction so children may be protected from abduction.

Peter Thomas Senese's
Critically Acclaimed
As a former chasing parent who once turned to and received assistance from the Office of Children's Issues, and who now years later, as the Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation - a non-profit organization dedicated to helping stop abduction -  I can say that it is about time that the indefatigable efforts of the Office of Children's Issues is acknowledged, applauded, and certainly, many aspects of their outreach programs should be emulated by other nations.

In the near future, I will be sharing a more detailed retrospective, including coverage in the documentary film 150,000 Internationally Abducted Children now in production concerning the Office of Children's Issues and this dedicated team, many mothers and fathers themselves, who work tirelessly fighting child abduction under the legal guidelines established by the United States Congress when our government acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Within Congressional guidelines, OCI diligently works to assist American citizens either protect their targeted children from outbound abduction, or provide help in a chasing parent's quest to find and reunite with their abducted child who was illegally kidnapped from the United States.  Equally, individuals working at the Office of Children's Issues try to assist chasing parents who have had their child abducted to the United States.  

In its role as the United States' Central Authority with respect to the Hague Abduction Convention, the Office Of Children's Issues is responsible for taking certain action as outlined by Congress in cases involving international child abduction. OCI also provides information in response to inquiries about international child abduction, visitation rights and abduction prevention techniques. Like other Central Authorities around the world, it's responsible for working closely with other agencies and Central Authorities to ensure the speedy return of children under the Hague Convention.

The Office of Children's Issues and the broader U.S. State Department has received sustained criticism by parents of children abducted to and from the United States and the lawyers who represent them for failing to treat international child abduction as a human rights issue rather than a diplomatic irritant, and taking a non-partisan, impartial role rather than effectively advocating for victimized parents and abducted children. 

The Non-Profit
I CARE Foundation
has assisted numerous families.
From the I CARE Foundation's view, there is no question that the United States government, along with all governments around the world should and could do more to assist children and their families who are kidnapped. 

This said, we must be mindful of the authority Congress vested in the Office of Children's Issues when it became a signatory of the Hague Convention. The reality is an organization is as only as good as their governing guidelines and resources that are made available to them.  So despite their limited operational reach and resources as dictated by Congress, the fact is the individuals who work in the Office of Children's Issues happen to be some of the most dedicated and concerned stakeholders in the world who work in the never-ending storms known as international parental child abduction. 

As a group of individuals with direct first-hand insight at being on the front-line in the war against child abduction, the I CARE Foundation recognizes the incredible tasks all individuals working with the Office of Children's Issues face.

Truth is, when you deal each and every day with international child abduction: trying to assist children and families of internationally kidnapped children while having limited means to do so; and, while you try to comfort the targeted parent who is emotionally and often financially overwhelmed at the abduction of their child; and, while you try to manage the large case load you are tasked to oversee because Congress has limited the resources the Office has been given; and, while you see what appears to be an unending parade of abduction cases (inbound and outbound) come through your door, there is no question that abduction pulls out you. 

Reality is that the individuals who dedicate their lives trying to aid families in crisis of abduction know heartbreak.  Sometimes, they succeed in assisting a family. Sadly, sometimes, they do not. Unfortunately, fighting abduction is very complicated.

However, despite the limited resources made available to them, the Office of Children's Issues has been making one heck of an impact as demonstrated by hard statistics. 

Due to the significant decline in outbound U.S. international parental child abduction cases that the Office of Children's Issues is a key stakeholder in, combined with a general, though limited increase of abduction return cases (see 'Extreme Difficulties In Returning Internationally Abducted Children'), I speak for the I CARE Foundation when I say OCI is made up of many heroes of children.

This past December, 2012 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 543, condemning international parental child abduction. The resolution was a powerful statement concerning the reality of abduction. In it's passage, we can hope that OCI will receive more funding and broader power to further assist children and their families of abduction. 

Reported Cases Of Outbound Child Abductions From The United States Declines: Contradicts Global Trend For Second Year In A Row

Impressively, the Office of Children's Issues abduction prevention outreach has done something that apparently no other country in the world has accomplished: as international parental child abduction continues to soar around the world, with abduction rates surpassing anywhere from 10% to over 80% per year based upon countries reporting abduction (note: Canada has stopped reporting abduction since 2008), the reported outbound cases of American child abduction has declined by over 15% per year during fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

This is nothing short of a Herculean effort that has created miracles for a large number of families. When considering that primarily due to a large number of anticipated unreported cases of outbound child abductions from the United States associated with the slightly over 11.1 million unregistered alien residents living in America that has been forcast to represent at least 100% of the reported outbound abduction rate according to several I CARE Foundation published studies, the decline in the outbound abduction rate may represent several thousand children, and that, is nothing short of a miracle.

But let's put this in a clearer light in order to truly understand the remarkable effort by the Office of Children's Issues team.

Using a five year reporting period from 2006 to 2010, average international parental child abduction growth in the United States surpassed 20% per year.  Additionally, abduction appears to have increased each year during the three decades the United States took part of the Hague Convention.

Specifically, during 2012 there were 799 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority representing a total of 1,144 children. Previously, in 2011 there were a total of 941 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority, representing a total of 1,367 children.

Thus, the reduction by 142 filed cases represents a decline of 15% of reported abduction cases from 2012 from 2011. During the same reporting period, there were 223 fewer children internationally kidnapped in 2012 from 2011, representing a 16.3% decrease of total children abducted.
Comparatively, there were 1022 reported international parental child abduction cases in 2010 representing 1,492 children. Thus, there has been a reduction of 223 reported abduction cases from 2010 to 2012, representing a total decline of 348 children between the two years. This represents a two year decline from 2010 to 2012 in reported cases by 21.8%, and a 23.3% reduction over the same two year period in the number of children kidnapped.

Now, is this dramatic decline in the abduction rate completely due to the Office of Children's Issues?  Of course not.

However, OCI is a key and critical stakeholder in the fight to prevent international child abduction amongst American children, and their efforts to do so have unquestionably reduced abduction despite a skyrocketing global trend in abduction.

Why is international parental child abduction occurring?

The answer is rather direct. Our world is becoming filled with global citizens. Individuals from different countries travel abroad to study or work. Some enter into relationships with a person from the country they are visiting, and a child is eventually born from that relationship. During the course of the time, some of these relationships fail. Divorce is a reality. However, often, the foreign-born national living in a foreign country may feel isolated and may desire to return to their country of origin with their child, who more than likely possesses a right of citizenship to that parent's country of birth. Realizing that the child's other parent probably would not consent to having the child relocated abroad, and that a court more than likely would not grant mobility to relocate either, that parent often creates a deceitful scheme to illegally remove the child from the child's country of jurisdiction without consent from the other parent or consent from the court. This is called international parental child abduction. And it is not only an abusive act against a child, but it is a serious, and at times, dangerous crime of kidnapping that has both short and long term effects on the victimized child.

The sad fact is that a large number of marriages, estimated to be between 40% and 50%, in the U.S. end in divorce.  The divorce rate increases to nearly 70% during multinational marriages.  And as recently reported by The New York Times, the whole concept of marriage really is . . . well, 'Why Do People Still Marry? Why Bother? - which I think says a great deal about the shift in committed partnerships in a mobile world.

Another Way To Measure The Office Of Children's Issues Effectiveness: Immigration Migration and Its Affect On Child Abduction Cases 

Regardless of the side of the debate you may be on regarding immigration reform, and your view of unregistered alien residents living in the United States today, the fact is that if a child is born in the United States by two unregistered residents, that child is an American citizen.  

This fact as it is associated with abduction is that just like failed marriages or relationships between legal residents living in the United States, partnerships between unregistered residents fail. And when this occurs, there are times when one of the child's parents may seek to return to their native country, and take the American child-citizen with them.

Unfortunately, when the threat of abduction occurs, undocumented residents have not realized that they can turn to the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues for legal assistance as OCI.  I know this first-hand as the I CARE Foundation's legal team of attorneys has in the past worked with OCI when dealing with undocumented residents and child abduction.

Has the Office of Children's Issues been effective in assisting unregistered parents with abduction cases? 

The answer is not one that can be statistically determined; however, insight can be provided by the increase in abduction prevention cases originating from unregistered residents.  For example, the number of unregistered abduction prevention cases the I CARE Foundation assisted in during fiscal year 2012 to 2013 increased by 175% from the number of cased we assisted in during fiscal year 2011.  In addition, during the first 5 months of 2013, the I CARE Foundation's outreach assisting undocumented residents is already at 70% of the case load during fiscal year  2012.  We fully expect that the number of undocumented alien abduction prevention cases we will assist on during 2013 will double our case load of 2012.

One of the primary reasons why the number of abduction prevention cases is occurring is because the Office of Children's Issues has in fact worked hard to reach Hispanic communities and share a strong and honest message that OCI is there willing and able to help these often forgotten families.

The I CARE Foundation, with our view from the trenches fighting abduction, applauds OCI's commitment.

A report compiled by the renowned Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center reports that most immigrant groups are comprised of young families. The likelihood that a child will be born while the parents are present in the U.S. is high. Prior to 2007, data collected on parents of children under 18 only identified one parent, and a second parent could only be identified if they were married to the first parent. Currently, a second parent identifier is considered whether or not the parents are married to each other. The new data more accurately reflects the number of children living in the U.S. with at least one foreign-born parent.
In 2008 that meant that 22% of all children in the United States had at least one foreign-born parent. In fact, consider the following statistics compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies in its March 2007 analysis. Immigrants and their U.S. born children under age 18, as a share of population: California – 37.9%, Los Angles County – 50%, New York State – 27.9%, New York City – 46.7% and Florida – 27.9%.

It must be noted that although 31.3% of all immigrants originate from Mexico, other countries have significant entry numbers as well. Included in the March 2007 Current Population Survey (CPS) were statistics indicating that 17.6% of all immigrants were from East/Southeast Asia, 12.5% from Europe, 5.5% from South Asia, 3.5% from the Middle East, and Canada at 1.9%.

Traditionally, states such as California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois and Arizona have had large numbers of immigrants in their population. What is surprising is the trends in migration toward new centers of immigrant growth. The CPS prepared an analysis of states with statistically significant growth in immigrant population between 2000 and 2007. Most notably, Wyoming, which experienced a percentage increase of 180%, Tennessee at 160%, Georgia at 152.1%, and Alabama at 143.6%. The impact of unprecedented increases in immigrant migration is likely to create multiple challenges as states struggle to keep pace with their newest segment of population and their children.

As a nation of immigrants, it is important to note that as our nation’s population increases due to immigrant migration, so too does the likelihood of increased cross-border child abduction.

Additionally, it has been well established that illegal aliens do not respond to surveys such as the US Census or the CPS. Because the U.S. government does not have accurate records of arrival and departures for individuals present illegally in the country, their numbers must be estimated, as there is no hard data to draw from. However, indirect means for establishing these figures are used, and they must be viewed with a considerable amount of uncertainty. In 2007 CPS, it was estimated that of the approximately 37.9 million immigrants present in the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 immigrants were present illegally.

It is important to note this segment of our population when discussing child abduction because when a child is born in the U.S. that child automatically is a U.S. citizen. While the available data gives us fairly accurate figures regarding the number of children born in the U.S. as well as those immigrants who are present legally, a number is impossible to compile accurately in relation to the unauthorized resident population.

In regards to children born to illegal immigrants, in the five-year period from 2003 to 2008, that number rose from 2.7 million to 4 million. The report published by the Pew Hispanic Centers reported that nationally the children of illegal immigrants now comprise 1 in 15 elementary and secondary students in the U.S. Additionally, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas more than 1 in every 10 students in those states are the children of illegal immigrants.

A Possible Decline In Unreported Cases of Abduction On The Horizon?

One thing that is of great interest, is a comment made by Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Center.  Passel said, "When we look at the unauthorized immigrant population today, there are a lot of people who came more than 10-15 years ago, and not a lot from the last five years. Two-thirds have been here more than 10 years."
Does this mean that the number of expected unreported cases of abduction, or the number of reported cases filed by undocumented residents will decline?

If we simply consider a statistical curve based upon unregistered population and forceasted abduction's, then the answer is yes, particularly since OCI's outreach to this portion of the population living in the United States has made a big difference.

So What Can The Office Of Children's Issues Do, and What Can They Not Do?

 I speak first-hand as a former Chasing Parent, that it is important to have realistic expectations from the Office of Children's Issues with regard to abduction.  Until such time that Congress changes the role of OCI, this is what you should expect:
  • OCI can provide you with information about various resources that may assist you in your efforts to return your child to the United States;
  • If your child was abducted to a country that is a U.S. partner under the Hague Abduction Convention, as appropriate, OCI may accept your Hague application, forward it to the foreign central authority in the country to which your child has been abducted, and monitor developments concerning your child’s case through the Foreign Central Authority;
  • OCI can provide a list of attorneys in the country where your child is located;
  • OCI can answer questions from local and federal law enforcement about the Department’s role in international parental child abduction cases;
  • OCI can facilitate your communication with U.S. government agencies and non-governmental organizations that may be able to assist you.
What you should not expect from OCI is the following:
  • OCI will not recover your child for you;
  • OCI will not assist you with any financial costs associated with reunification;
  • OCI will not provide you with legal advice;

Expanding Understanding Of International Parental Child Abduction Amongst The International Community

Japan Appears to Finally Be
Prepared To Sign
The Hague Convention 
One of the more impressive, but little talked about accomplishments of the Office of Children's Issues is that using diplomacy, individuals in the Office have worked tirelessly to educate their counterparts in foreign countries about international abduction, and have assisted many countries create their own Central Authorities as required by the Hague Convention.  In addition, the Department of State has applied continued pressure on countries who have either not signed the Hague Convention (such as Japan, which is expected to become a signatory in 2014, or South Korea, which is now a signatory of the Convention).  Furthermore, ongoing diplomatic efforts to have non-complying Hague signatory countries follow the intent and spirit of the Hague Convention are a big part of OCI's global outreach.

Contact Information

For More Information On The Office Of Children's Issues, please visit The Department of State's Website.  Additional information is as follows:

Office of Children's Issues

International Parental Child Abduction

Phone: 1-888-407-4747; 202-501-4444
Fax: 202-736-9132
Web Address:
Mailing Address:United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Children's Issues
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Phone: 1-888-407-4747; 202-501-4444

Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program

Phone: 1-888-407-4747
Fax: 202-736-9133
Mailing Address:
U.S. Department of State
Overseas Citizen Services Attn: Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Se habla EspaƱol: 1-888-407-4747

Intercountry Adoption Division*
Phone: 1-888-407-4747; 202-501-4444
Fax: 202-736-9080
Web Address: Adoption.State.Gov

 More To Come

 As shared in the beginning of this essay, this is a short overview of the Office of Children's Issues and why the efforts of many individuals associated with the OCI should be considered heroic and the individuals themselves heroes.  Is there room to improve? There always is for each of us. However, today we take the time to acknowledge the incredible achievements accomplished, with an eye toward building upon the success of protecting children.  And by no means are we out of the woods, but the mountain of abduction is being pushed back, and OCI's efforts have had a big reason to do with that.

During the time I was Chasing The Cyclone of international parental child abduction, I turned to the Office of Children's Issues with reasonable expectations.  Was the abduction of my child awful? Of course. And there could never be anything that could properly share the evil acts committed against him or me.  But with reasonable expectations, there will never be a day that goes by that I will not hold the individuals at OCI with great respect and esteem, for I will always be thankful for what they did to assist me under the guidelines they were able to.

One last note: To all the individuals who have worked or presently worked at the Office of Children's Issues, the work you perform is so important to so many. Reality is the impact you have and continue to have will be felt by so many families you will never know nor ever hear about.  But that does not diminish the important work you have done.  And as is often shared, the tragedy of abduction is one that causes a targeted parent the desire to forget the nightmare their family faced, you should know that there is so much appreciation from so many families - and I and my family are part of that expansive group.

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