General Secretariat

Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders for 97 years


The International Social Service (ISS) is an international NGO founded in 1924; it is organized in a network of national entities that assist children and families confronted with complex social problems as a result of migration. While ISS first activities were mainly centered around migration and re-establishing family links, the network have since adapted its activities to match new challenges and needs in the social arena.
ISS is an omnipresent actor in child protection and child welfare activities thanks to its presence in more than 120 countries. Beside direct field activities, ISS engages in training and capacity building projects to social workers, care givers as well as to officials from government authorities. Advocacy, policy development and research in favor of and to promote the respect of children’s best interest and rights is at the heart of our focus.
Since its foundation 90 years ago, ISS have assisted several million children and families worldwide. 


International Social Service was founded in 1924 in response to large scale European migration which started at the end of the 19th Century. After World War I, the situation became dire in several European countries resulting in thousands of migrants applying for refuge in the USA. This new state of affairs triggered the development of various intercountry relationships requiring a new type of social services. In this context ISS was founded and offices were established at key locations to provide information and assistance to migrants. These initial establishments formed the ISS network and by working together, they developed common working principles and methods. Their collaboration gradually became more solid and efficient, and during World War II, remained firm.
In the immediate post-war period, ISS cooperated closely with UN agencies such as the International Refugee Organisation (IRO - the predecessor of the UN High Commission for Refugees). ISS staff provided training to IRO counsellors and worked in camps for displaced persons in Germany, Austria and Italy, assisting unaccompanied minors providing each child a socially sound plan and tracing services of family members in other countries. Many of the cases ISS dealt with were controversial. Repatriation was often promoted by countries of origin or parents who, wanted their children returned to them once located, yet families who had meanwhile provided care for those children wanted to keep them. Such controversies have recurred as part of ISS casework so that ISS has now become accustomed to securing appropriate reports for the considerations of Courts as part of its role.
The post-war period witnessed the ISS network branching out of Europe and North America and becoming truly worldwide in order to respond to the needs of thousands of children and families facing difficulties as a result of migration, military action, conflict and employment. In addition there was an increase in mixed marriages, an augmentation in the number of children born of out these relationships as well as an rise in the number of separated families and unaccompanied children. The need for ISS assistance grew rapidly especially in the areas of finding the best alternative for children deprived of their family or resolving questions of custody, visiting rights and maintenance in situations of cross-cultural separation and divorce. ISS also received a mounting number of requests to assist unaccompanied minors to re-establish contact with their families as well as separated or adopted children in search of their origins.
Since the 1950's, ISS has also undertaken numerous specific projects. For example, it helped reunite Greek children who were forced to leave their country with their families after the 1942-1949 civil war. In the 1970's, ISS provided refugees fleeing from dictatorships of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay with psychosocial assistance, legal orientation and financial support. During the same period, it helped 4000 Vietnamese refugees who reached Hong Kong at the end of the war to benefit from location and reuniting of families, as well as from language training and counselling social services. The organisation also supported British women establish contact with their husbands in Libya and arranged meetings with their children.
The expertise of ISS in assisting families and children facing difficulties as a consequence of migration also allowed the organisation to actively participate in the development of principles, norms and international instruments of major importance in this area.
In 1957, ISS actively participated at the UN Expert Group which for the first time, identified 12 fundamental principles in intercountry adoption that were endorsed by the United Nations and which has become the basis for national and international legislation ever since.
In 1979, ISS participated in various drafting sessions at the Hague Conference on Private International Law for the development of the Convention of 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  ISS also worked with the NGO group in drafting the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as actively participated in the elaboration of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption. More recently, ISS co-drafted the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children endorsed by the UN in 2009. The involvement of ISS in the development and the implementation of norms relating to family and child protection continues today with the same drive and determination.

Among the most challenging social issues of the 21st century are populations increased movement across borders, south to north but also south to south. Focusing on transnational and International migration, ISS activities remain highly in demand nowadays in areas linked to migration, international family conflicts, International child abduction, alternative care for children, adoption and its grey zones; just to name a few global challenges

ISS cross-border services carried out through its worldwide network offer professional, reliable as well as individualized solutions to challenges children and families face across borders. Whether in its day to day casework activities or through global advocacy and policy development endeavours, ISS puts the interest of children above all other considerations.
In 2014, ISS celebrates in 90th anniversary, 90 years of dedicated and relentless work in child protection, family reunification, tracing, adoption care as well as advocacy. ISS work has served millions of children and families, as well as social work professionals across the globe.