For the past year, I’ve been helping parents who are at risk of losing their children to foster care. My role is to attend Child SafetyConferences, meetings held by child protective services in New York City to decide whether a child should go into foster care or if there is a safe way to keep the child at home.
The conferences are held 24 hours after a case is called in. Parents are shocked, angry and afraid. I know how they feel—my own son was in foster care. As a trained Community Representative, I can help. I am familiar with the child welfare system and know about resources in the community that can help families prevent removal or reunify more quickly.
A typical parent I’ve worked with is Melissa. When I arrived at her conference, she was sad and confused. The allegation was that she failed to protect her son. Melissa would put her son to bed and then go get high. She was getting so high that she would wake up someplace and not remember how she got there. She wanted help.
Melissa’s sister was willing to become a foster parent to Melissa’s son, but they lived in the same household. So I suggested that Melissa get into a residential drug program. In the end, that became the safety plan.
I escorted Melissa to Odyssey House, a substance abuse program, the next day. I prayed with her to stay strong. Later on, though, she called me and said, “I just cannot do it. I want to go home.”
I reminded myself, “Her addiction is calling.” I was able to comfort her and remind her of why she needed to stay—and she did.
Melissa didn’t think she could make it. But she turned out to be very strong. With the right support from day one, I think more parents like Melissa can make it through.
From Rights to Reality
A plan for parent advocacy and family-centered child welfare reform
From Rights to Reality is designed to unite parents and parent advocacy around a common set of goals. It identifies 15 rights for parents affected by the child welfare system. Most parents do not yet have these rights in child welfare proceedings. From Rights to Reality represents a commitment to working in our communities and nationwide to make these rights a reality.