Children’s Rights Values Birth Families

By CR Staff

Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, has heard heartwarming stories of families safely reuniting after their kids spent time in foster care.

In Georgia, Donald, a single father, welcomed his children home with the assistance of a reunification counselor who helped him turn his life around and work on parenting skills and anger management.

In another community, agencies joined forces to support Jan, a young, once drug-addicted mother, and help her form a stable home and get her kids back. An Idaho newspaper reported that Jan is drug-free and on her way to earning a nursing degree.

Success stories like these continue to inspire Lowry and the Children’s Rights’ staff to push child welfare officials to give kids permanent, loving homes by reuniting them with their birth families or placing them with relatives, when it is safe and possible to do so. This advocacy is the focus of our column in the July issue of Fostering Families Todaymagazine.

“Sometimes families need help. And that doesn’t mean they cannot be a completely viable, nurturing family to the child,” Lowry said.

Children’s Rights is a strong advocate for permanent families, including those formed through adoption. Lowry has seen enough tragic abuse cases to know it is not always safe for kids to grow up with their biological families. But she also recognizes that children could benefit if some states didn’t lack services to support families in crisis, or fail to help them work out the problems that bring their kids into foster care.

“It is unquestionably the case that there are children who could be reunified with families with necessary help and services that are not,” Lowry said.

Children’s Rights is moving to change this. Our reform campaigns often call for more visits between children in foster care and parents, for kids to be placed closer to their biological families, for siblings to stay together, and for lower caseloads so workers can focus on the needs of each child.

We call for states to examine decision-making practices around areas that profoundly impact kids’ lives, like whether to send them back to their birth parents. We have required states to identify key supports that may set the path towards a family’s reunification, such as counseling, daycare and employment assistance, and to check back routinely to ensure the right services are received.

Our campaigns in New Jersey and Tennessee have required officials to focus on stabilizing relationships between children and their birth families. The states have increased their reunification rates and prioritized services for families. “These states take it very seriously and have quality assurance programs that are looking at how they are making their decisions. They have worked hard to try to create or maintain services that will make reunifications successful,” Lowry said.

And in metropolitan Atlanta, where Donald and his kids are still together, our reform led officials to bring in national experts and outside counseling services to find permanent homes for kids who had spent too long in foster care. Donald got his kids back with the help of a special reunification counselor, changing the trajectory of his life, and the lives of his kids.

“I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt I had done something I needed to do,” Donald told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.