WHAT WE DO
Founded in 2005, Rise is a community of survivors dedicated to challenging the prevailing narrative about parents whose children enter foster care, eliminating child welfare’s punitive and disparate impact on poor families of color and building a social support system that truly protects families in need.
Similar to criminal justice, child welfare is a system that frequently harms the children and families it seeks to protect. The U.S. has permanently separated poor families of color—especially Black, Latino and Native families—through law and through economic inequity for its entire history. Our current child welfare system is built on powerful narratives shaped by racism, sexism and child welfare's 100-year history of "saving" children from poor parents. In addition, media coverage continues to focus on the small minority of brutal cases and traffic in racist images of black women. This creates a public perception that child welfare-involved parents must be dealt with punitively.
For children, unnecessary separation from parents is devastating. For African-American and Native American families, which are disproportionately impacted by child welfare, system involvement is a pervasive threat.Dynamics inherent in current methods of child welfare intervention—threat, coercion, punishment, and lack of privacy, self-determination and control— undermine its mission of safety. Too often, child welfare increases mothers’ isolation and powerlessness, treats fathers as threats, exacerbates the material deprivation of families, severs children’s most important relationships, weakens communities, and reinforces historical trauma and inequity. A system rooted in justice and commitment to families will offer healing and target the roots of family stress and interpersonal harm.
Rise recognizes that parents themselves have the answers for their families and communities. We create safe spaces where impacted parents can reflect on their lives, connect with their peers, learn about child welfare’s history and policies, strengthen their writing, public speaking and advocacy skills, and mobilize their communities for justice.
Rise focuses on two goals: 1) To prevent unnecessary system involvement. 2) To reform child welfare policy and practice so that families who come to the attention of the child welfare system are less likely to be separated and more likely to reunify if children are removed.
To build powerful parent leaders, Rise trains parents in writing, public speaking and leadership skills.
To assist parents in crisis, Rise provides information and peer support through our magazine.
To reform child welfare policy and practice, Rise uses legislative and administrative advocacy and provides technical assistance to develop structures that support parents’ self-determination during system involvement.
To strengthen the capacity of communities to collectively support families, Rise partners with community organizing and justice organizations to mobilize parents and advocate for investment in NYC families.
Prevent System Involvement
For low income-families of color, child welfare is a constant, threatening presence. Nationwide,1 in 9 African-American children spends time in foster care. In NYC, 1 out of 5 children citywide have become involved in the child welfare system in the past five years. Calling a child abuse hotline has become the default response for schools and medical personnel, resulting in unnecessary child protective investigations and a painful cycle: Families fearful of an investigation do not seek out help, so family challenges are more likely to become crises.
• Inform parents about steps they can take to prevent or reduce the harm of system involvement;
• Develop a platform and partnerships to drive community investment in the economic, social and justice needs of families as well as methods of addressing interpersonal harm that strengthen families.
Support Family Reunification
Fewer than one-third of the 4,000 children who enter foster care in NYC every year return home within 12 months, far below the national reunification average. Rise seeks to reduce family separation by improving frontline practice and policies.The sudden loss of a child to foster care is an experience of grief, terror, disorientation, and loss of identity. Rise’s system improvement work focuses on increasing parents’ power in their interactions with the child welfare system, centered on three principles: Addressing parents’ safety; building parents’ knowledge of the child welfare process and opportunities for self-determination; and strengthening relationships, particularly peer support.
• Ensure that parents have information and peer support to navigate the child welfare process;
• Collaborate with advocacy, policy, legal and foster care agencies to improve frontline foster care and preventive practices, law and policy.
Parent Power - Parents’ expertise and power is the foundation for change in the systems that impact families, and in communities. We seek to elevate parents to positions of leadership and decision-making, within Rise and in systems and communities.
Leadership Development - Rise’s focus is on leadership development. Every person who contributes to Rise is a potential leader, bringing expertise rooted in personal experience. Rise seeks to build parents’ knowledge, skills and power to make change. To the extent that work at Rise is healing and self-building, it is through being welcomed to a caring community, offered the opportunity of reflection and knowledge, and supported to achieve mastery that can lead to a greater sense of personal power.
Change through Community - Rise’s priority is to build community amongst parents and families who have been impacted by the child welfare system. We also build connections among people who don't usually work together so that greater understanding, compassion and commitment - and better ideas through shared perspectives - can guide the work forward.
Storytelling - Parents’ sharing their experiences is fundamental to achieving reform, because contending with the realities of people’s experiences changes hearts and minds. Rise supports parents’ writing and speaking about their experiences in all their complexity, to challenge existing narratives of child welfare.
Resist System Dynamics - Punishment, humiliation, isolation are system tools that don't belong in Rise's work. To build new leaders, we need to be an organization that allows for mistakes and compassionately coaches people toward success while holding high expectations for all staff and contributors to work at their highest level. Care and consideration is part of leadership. Rise is loyal and committed to seeing people through.
Excellence and Credibility – Rise values excellence in our work. Because we reach parents in crisis, it is important that we consistently deliver information and resources that are accurate and resonate with parents. Because we reach audience members who question the value of parent voice and power, it is important that we consistently deliver high quality work. We must build credibility among parents, child welfare professionals and other stakeholders, and hold ourselves accountable to a standard of excellence that ensures our message is heard.
Innovation and Risk Taking - Meeting the needs of our community in a shifting environment requires being responsive and taking risks in trying new ways to reach our goals. At the same time, our work is highly challenging. We welcome innovative ideas and responses with respect to our capacity and our desire to limit chaos within our work.
Wellness in the Work - Effective and long-lasting work only happens when staff and contributors are in good relationship with one another. This means that staff feel acknowledged, supported and invested in. We strive to keep the intensity down and the power and self-determination and commitment up so that we build the long-lasting relationships that lead to real insight and power.
Passion and Love - Passion is needed to make the changes asked for in individuals and systems. Love allows vulnerability to become a strength. Through our work, we are committed to creating a sense of urgency among ourselves and for others.
Transparency - Rise strives for transparency and inclusivity in decision-making, internally and with outside partners. Rise’s work is made stronger by consistently seeking guidance and feedback from parents, partners and those who have invested their passion and resources in our work. Our power and the credibility of our work is strengthened by the transparency of our processes. Internally, having a method and clarity around how decisions are made, partnerships are entered into and projects developed at Rise is important as it helps to share power amongst staff.
Justice - Rise recognizes that the groups most impacted by child welfare surveillance, removal and time in the system are disproportionately represented by Black and Indigenous women living in poverty. As such, Rise’s work is rooted in highlighting the systemic issues of racism, classism and sexism that are embedded in the child welfare system’s culture, policy and practices.
RISE & SHINE PARENT LEADERSHIP PROGRAM
The annual Rise & Shine Parent Leadership Program builds parents’ skills and power to advocate for child welfare reform and for justice and safety in their communities. This 16-week parent-led program supports 10 parents each year to:
Build a strong foundation to become an advocate and a leader in your community;
Develop writing and public speaking skills;
Shadow parent advocates and participate in 10 hours of interactive field learning;
Reflect on experiences and build a peer-to-peer support network; and
Engage with expert speakers on child welfare history and law, parent advocacy, domestic violence, trauma, toxic stress and self-care.
Rise publishes parent essays and reporting in an online magazine reaching 25,000 readers each year.
Professionals in legal agencies, community organizations and foster care and preventive service agencies can support parents by offering Rise stories and resources. A copy of Rise in the agency waiting room, or offered to parents at intake, sends the message: "We listen to parents. We value parents' ideas. Your story is important to us." Parents tell us Rise stories offer guidance and hope. Professionals can also learn from parents' insights to improve their work with families. As former NYC child welfare commissioner John Mattingly has said, "Every edition gave me fresh insights as to how we might do better as an agency in working with parents."
Rise encourages allies to use our resources to support parents and to educate child welfare professionals, journalists and political leadership in your community.
Rise strives to make it easy to include parent stories in parent support groups and parenting classes. Our five workbooks on coping with family crises, visits, parent-foster parent communication, addiction recovery and reunification can improve parenting classes or add structure to parent peer support groups. Washington State Veteran Parents who use Rise stories have said: "We have incorporated Rise into Dependency 101, our class to help parents successfully navigate the child welfare system...The experiences are universal, and the message is that you are not alone. Rise is solution oriented and it gives people hope."
Parent stories have been reprinted in the New York Times Motherlode blog--on stigma, reunification, education and single motherhood--and in CW360, NYC's Child Welfare Watch, American Bar Association's Child Law Practice, Michigan Law Review, Youth Today, Casey Family Services’ VOICES; Fostering Perspective, a newspaper for foster parents; Permanency Planning Today; and FOCUS, on therapeutic foster care, as well as dozens of local and online newsletters. Rise also has been covered by NPR, the LA Times, NY1, Hoy and Fusion.