Four parent leaders from Rise presented parents’ perspectives on facing New York City Family Courts at the CUNY Law School symposium “Reimagining Family Defense” on April 8. Drawing on interviews with dozens of parents with current child welfare cases and stories published in Rise’s parent-written magazine over the past 10 years, Piazadora Footman, Robbyne Wiley, Bevanjae Kelley and Nancy Fortunato described common themes in parents’ experiences facing the court and gave recommendations for reform.
Central to their presentation was powerlessness. The presentation began:
“The main thing we want you to hear today is that parents come into court feeling powerless. Our life experiences have often made us feel powerless. Our experiences with courts and other authorities – schools, police – have also made us feel powerless. Just being people of color in this society makes us feel powerless. When our children are removed, we feel the ultimate in powerlessness.
“To regain our children, we need to find the power inside of us. We need to have the feeling that we are powerful enough to fight these charges, or change our lives.”
Parents’ recommendations focused on: treating parents with humanity (for instance, addressing them by name rather than saying “Mom” or “Birth Mom”); recognizing trauma at the root of child welfare involvement and developing trauma-focused court protocols and treatment options; operating with “procedural justice” so that parents can feel trust that their children will be safe in foster care and that justice will be served; ensuring referrals to high-quality services so that parents both get the help they may need and don’t feel that the court is just requiring that they jump through hoops; and ensuring opportunities for parents to have a voice in court.