June’s National Reunification Month celebrates the perseverance of parents reunifying with children from foster care — and the professionals who support them.
Below are interviews with four parents who recently reunified with their children or are on their way. They were represented by lawyers, social workers and parent advocates at Brooklyn Defender Services — legal teams they said they cried with and shared their joy with, too.
Photos are courtesy of the Self Portrait Project, a citywide initiative that allows people to photograph themselves.
DWIGHT AND MARTINIQUE HARRIS
Martinique: They took away our three kids because they said my husband was abusive to me, but that wasn’t true.
Dwight: The DA said, “He got a problem.” He said I got locked up for domestic violence. That didn’t happen. Someone reported us for arguing. I tested positive for drugs.
Martinique: I’m proud that we stayed strong as a family and stayed happy. We went through so much. They tried to put us through the wringer, and we just did everything we had to do.
The thing that was challenging for me is that everything was being thrown at my husband. I was the only one that was good. He was the bad one. I didn’t like that.
Dwight: Yeah, everything was on me. I was the problem. They kept telling her to get rid of me to get the kids back.
Martinique: That’s when we started to work together. If we didn’t work together, it wouldn’t work. We stayed together even though ACS tried to break us apart.
Dwight: We did parenting classes together and alone. It’s sad that my kids got taken away but it helped me to be a better father and husband. I’m more respectful to my wife and kids. When the court saw that I changed, they changed their attitude about me.
Martinique: We talk more now. We do family meetings. We understand each other more. We make sure the kids understand us and each other. We took everything we learned and put it into practice. We talk to each other, not at each other. We go on date nights.
Martinique: We had support. My brother was there from day one. He went back and forth to visits.
Dwight: My lawyer. She’s the best. She cried with me. She did everything with me. I love her. We’re still friends to this day. The people in this office [BDS] treated me with respect. They listened.
I’m so happy we got our kids back. We went through so much. When people see our pictures, I want them to see my pain. It went from pain to happiness.
I promised my kids I was going to be a father, not a daddy. And I kept my word.
My life went downhill when my mother died. She was my everything and I couldn’t handle losing her. I turned to drugs, and I lost my two children to foster care. I’m lucky that my kids are with a good foster mother. We get along and I can see my kids all the time.
I’m most proud of our resilience. Through all the ups and downs, my kids and I manage to keep that strong love and bond.
I would like people to understand that I am a regular person that made mistakes, and I will stop at nothing to fix those mistakes. My experience was bad in the beginning because I didn’t listen to what I was being told to do.
Since then, I have actually cleaned up my act and did things the correct way. Things are going better.
One challenge for me was my agency. They were not on the same page, but then the worker got fired and I’m moving toward my goal.
The most important thing to me is my support system: My lawyer, my advocate and every other person who believed in me when I didn’t.
The thing that’s different is that I get to parent my two kids now, and I love it.
BDS has been a shoulder, an ear, and every supporting thing I can think of. I truly am more than grateful to Nila and Sarah and Alexis.
When people look at our picture, I want them to see a family that has grown stronger and more together than ever; a family that will soon be reunited.
My older daughter was taken into foster care while I was pregnant. Then my newborn had to stay in the hospital. I couldn’t take her home.
I kept coming back and forth to court to get them back. At first, I was confused. My lawyers really explained things to me and worked with me. I got my daughters home.
It’s been really hard. I want the workers to know that I really can tend to what I have to do, at my pace. Workers tend to rush things and assume things. They assume that I’m not fit as a mother, that I’m “out there.” It’s stressful and demanding. That’s not helping me.
The only positive has been getting my daughters back.
ELISA AND NICOLE
Elisa: I had an addiction many years ago. Then Nicole had too many children taken away. I couldn’t let Nicole go through what I went through anymore. I said, “We’re going to break this cycle. We’re going to get this child.”
She had to go to Odyssey House. She had no choice; I was going to beat her up! She was saying, “Mommy, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can take the discipline.” I encouraged her. I know there’s a God that delivered us from this addiction.
Nicole’s a good person. I’m a good person. Just because you’re on drugs doesn’t make you a bad person.
Nicole: I was stressed out when I went in there. I was telling myself, “I’m missing the summertime. I can’t go to work any time soon.” I was mad. But the support was good.
I started out visiting my son David. He was in a foster home. I had to work up to having him with me at the program. That took five months.
My mother, my sister, my family members came to the visits. The foster mother is now family. We still see her. Our attorney was our lifeline. We adopted her into the family, too.
When David came to Odyssey House with me, I felt real good. I was so damn happy.