Why Rise Matters to Me: John Mattingly, former NYC Commissioner

When Rise first came out in 2005, I was the Commissioner for the NYC Administration for Children’s Services and I ordered 1,000 copies for the agency. I wanted to make sure that as many of our staff as possible began to be aware of—or grew even more aware of—parents’ perspectives on the work that they do.

Rise helped deepen and broaden my understanding of the experiences of parents in the child welfare system. It broadened my perspective because reading more and more stories helped me to understand how many different experiences parents have. It deepened it because every edition gave me fresh insights as to how we might do better as an agency in working with parents.

As a commissioner, you’re trying to move a big system to make it more effective in many, many ways. You’re always dealing with politicians and media and interest groups, such as the private foster care agencies. You have to deal with those forces day in and day out. It’s always good to make sure that you also deal with the people most affected by the work of the agency. I was helped by Rise and by parent advocates to keep in mind parents’ perspectives, which are all too easy to miss when you’re under such pressure from those other sources.

As a leader, you’re also always trying to figure out how to get your values and your perspectives known to people on the front lines of the organization, and to make sure you’re hearing from them about what’s getting in the way of achieving the goals you want the agency to achieve. Rise was a source of feedback to me from parents. We were able to take the experiences described in Rise and add them to the discussions that we had reviewing cases in ChildStat every week. That kept us learning.

When I was at ACS, we also partnered with Rise to develop workbooks about improving visits, communication with foster parents and preparation for reunification. Agencies have used those workbooks in parent support groups and foster parent training.

Agencies always need to be looking for tools to engage parents early in a case and to help keep parents focused on what they can do to reunite with their children. Rise’s workbooks are a tool to expose parents to the knowledge of experienced parents and the steps other parents have taken to get their children home.

Rise stories are also a way that parents and foster parents can learn from each other, which is so critical in helping them share responsibility for the children.

I hope that Rise is a constant reminder to people who are working in the system of what it is that we’re trying to accomplish—who it is whose lives we are trying to affect positively. I’d like to see everybody in the agencies and family courts reading Rise to understand the impact of our decisions on real families’ lives.

It also would not be a bad thing for Bill de Blasio and his Children’s Cabinet to get a regular update from Rise on the impact of their work. The more that we keep parents’ perspectives in front of us, the better we’ll be at what we’re trying to do in this very, very difficult work.

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