On the Frontlines: From CR’s Executive Director

Sandy HeadshotThe word “victory” conjures images of monumental achievement. With significant events on the horizon, from the 2016 summer Olympics to a hotly contested presidential election, triumph of all kinds is on the minds of many. It is at Children’s Rights as well — but for us, victories aren’t measured with votes or gold medals. Our milestones, though monumental, are of an entirely different kind. And while they create change in foster care systems across the country, their impact is measured by the individual:

  • The boy who is able to remain with his brothers and sisters, rather than being torn from them.
  • The girl who is able to attend, and thrive in, one high school — rather than switching homes and schools every year.
  • The child who is in foster care only briefly before being safely reunified with family or adopted into a loving home.
  • And perhaps the biggest of all: the child who is able to break down barriers and learn to trust, because  he is finally placed with a family who supports him unconditionally.

These victories might be invisible to the world at large, but collectively their impact is massive. So we are proud to bring two recent successes to light in this edition of Notes From the Field. After an intensive campaign that weathered changing leaderships and several bumps in the road to reform, Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has reached its goals to fix foster care. The state, which has been under a consent decree that resulted from CR’s legal advocacy, has made important strides like lowering caseloads and stopping the placement of kids in emergency shelters. DCS now must maintain these measures for at least a year to exit court oversight — and early signs point to the state accomplishing this. The state of Texas has a long way to go before it resembles Tennessee, but a federal court judge’s incredibly strong ruling in favor of our plaintiff children will pave the way to a safer, smarter foster care system. Although the state continues to fight the case, that hasn’t stopped U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack from appointing two experts who will recommend a plan to help the children who, according to Jack, “almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”

We owe much of this victory to a person who, with his colleagues, has proven to be the most dedicated of allies: Paul Yetter of the Houston-based law firm Yetter Coleman LLP. A force to be reckoned with, this stellar attorney’s formidable skills are matched only by his commitment to the most vulnerable children of his state. I am proud to announce that he will accept, on behalf of his firm, the Children’s Rights Champion Award at our annual benefit this October.

There are few more deserving of accolades, except the former foster youth who so bravely testify about their lives in the courtroom, at our events and during our annual Fostering the Future campaign. Giving voice to their experiences is one of the most important things we do. Take Amanda. She wrote last year about being put in a kinship placement where an older relative sexually abused her several times a week until she was 10 — when he started selling her to his friends. Sharing her story wasn’t easy for Amanda. But she recently reached out to tell us:

“I feel so free, like I made it. Words can’t express how thankful I am … Children’s Rights changed my life.”

And that is the biggest victory of all.