I live in the Highbridge section of the South Bronx and my communityhas the largest number of children being placed into foster care in New York City. I know about the stresses that living in a community like mine can put on a family because my own child was placed in foster care.
For the past three years, I have been a parent organizer for a grassroots organization called the Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP). My job is to help parents like myself navigate the child welfare system, which is a system that may or may not respect your rights as a parent, and may or may not provide you with the information you need to know your rights.
I see a lot of stresses on the families I work with. A lot of people are stuck in Mickey D jobs. People are living so far below the poverty line that they can’t afford to go college to improve their situation. They don’t have the money to pay the rent every month, and sometimes they get their lights cut off.
A lot of families could use some help, but they’re afraid to reach out to child welfare, because child welfare officials might come to the house and see that there’s no food in the fridge and remove the kids. Parents in poverty are afraid that if they call child welfare, they’ll be putting their families in even greater jeopardy.
That’s where CWOP comes in. We’ve been in this community for five years and parents have learned that they can turn to us. About half of my cases are about helping parents meet their basic needs. We use flex funds to help parents pay a portion of their rent or their light bill, buy clothes or furniture. Sometimes just that little bit is enough to get a parent back on track.
If the child welfare system wants to break the cycle of foster care, they need to figure out a way to support families that doesn’t leave parents scared to reach out for basic help. We need to help people deal with stresses due to poverty, lack of education and institutional racism, because those stresses affect how we parent every single day.