Soon after Amber Wilkes-Smith’s niece was born, she was placed in foster care in Buffalo, New York. Amber was not notified by the child welfare system, in violation of her family’s rights and child welfare requirements. By the time she found out her niece was in care, her sister’s parental rights had been terminated. Amber filed a petition through the court to try to get custody. When her petition was denied, she appealed the decision. Although Amber lost the appeal, she is sharing her experience to raise awareness of these issues, help other families and push for change.
Here, Amber and Michael Steinberg, Amber’s lawyer in the appeal, explain the appeal process. They discuss violations of parents’ and families’ legal rights and systemic injustice in the child welfare and family court systems.
When faced with the trauma of the child welfare system removing their children, many parents prefer that their children be cared for by a family member or someone they know and trust, rather than by strangers. Research shows that children benefit from being placed with family members rather than non-relatives, and states are required by law to prioritize placement with relatives. Unfortunately, this isn’t always what happens in practice. In NYC, the child welfare agency, ACS, invested in coaching and training so that more children are placed with kin.
Here, Lavern Harry, VP Foster Care, Adoption and Preventive Services, and Nosa Omoruyi, Director Foster Parent Recruitment, Development and Support, talk about practices that have increased use of kinship care at Graham, an agency in New York City. Ms. Harry and Mr. Omoruyi discuss the rights of parents and family members, as well as some of the challenges of kinship care. They also suggest what parents can do if their children are removed to make it more likely that they will — or won’t — be placed with particular family members.
My children came home a week before Easter, but when they walked in it was Easter for them. I had new toys, clothing and an Easter basket waiting for them. Even though they knew that I loved them, I wanted them to know that I missed them with all my heart. I took them out to eat, play and to the movies. We played games, danced around the house and watched TV. I cooked some food because they missed my home cooking.
It was so unreal to hear all of them call me mom at one time. I had been waiting for that for a whole year and three months. The kids stayed up half the night, excited because we all were home together in one house.
When they went to sleep I checked on them the whole night. I didn’t think it was real that they were home. After they went to bed, I sat in my room and cried because my children were back with me. I didn’t think this day would come true. I had worked so hard to get them back home.
As part of our Fighting for Our Rights series and in recognition of National Reunification Month, Rise is exploring how parent legal representation can support reunification.
Here, Rise talks with Marty Guggenheim, professor of clinical law at NYU Law School, co-director of NYU Law School’s Family Defense Clinic and co-author of the study “Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare.” His research proves that interdisciplinary legal representation—an approach where a legal team includes a lawyer, parent advocate and social worker—helps families safely reunify more quickly. His research also shows that many children do not need to be in foster care at all.
NYC parent LaQuana Chappelle explains how and why she sued ACS.
LaQuana Chappelle’s children were removed by ACS illegally following an accident. After she got her kids back, she got a lawyer and sued the system. The case was settled with the City of New York paying damages to LaQuana and her children.
Here, LaQuana discusses her experience, the importance of knowing your rights and her advice for other parents who are considering suing.