Over four decades of fighting to reform failing child welfare systems, I’ve been surrounded by inspirational attorneys, advocates, caseworkers, foster and adoptive parents and survivors of state care who are constant reminders of why our work is so critical.
This year, their inspiration was more than evident at our Eighth Annual Benefit.
We honored some remarkable people with the Children’s Rights Champion Award: attorney Frederic Dorwart, whose commitment to Oklahoma’s abused and neglected children is unmatched; actor Rosie Perez, who endured unthinkable experiences as a ward of the state and has made a string of contributions to inner-city youth; and Emmy-Award winning casting director Sheila Jaffe who, along with CR Board Member Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, founded the Felix Organization, which enriches the lives of children in foster care.
We were grateful for the presence of Deanna and Alyssa W., Tre’Shawn Parrish, LaTasha C. Watts and Dylan McIntosh, all of whom have experienced abuse and neglect and were brave enough to share a part of their lives with us.
But one of my favorite moments of the benefit was seeing Jeanette Miller. I first met Jeanette when she was 15. She was among the hundreds of New York City children who had been shipped to highly questionable out-of-state facilities because New York didn’t have appropriate foster homes for them. In Jeanette’s case, she was housed in a dilapidated institution in Florida. She was heavily medicated, depressed and didn’t need to be there.
Jeanette endured so much in her young life, it wasn’t a surprise when her son Joshuwah ended up in New York City foster care. The shock came when Jeanette did everything she was told to win him back, and the city still kept him in a home where he was being harmed. Jeanette called Children’s Rights and we intervened so they could be reunited, giving mother and son ten years together that they wouldn’t otherwise have had–and sparing Joshuwah the possibility of being institutionalized.
Of course we’d like to think that Jeanette’s experience was an anomaly–that in this day and age, Joshuwah wouldn’t have shared her fate. But, as you’ll read in When Institutions Are Called Home, far too many children in foster care do.
Yes, some kids need extra help. But the vast majority, even those who have special needs, would thrive in family-like settings. States end up warehousing kids because they fail to recruit an adequate number and array of foster homes, or because teens in foster care, rightfully angry about the hands they’ve been dealt, are deemed unmanageable at the first signs of deteriorating behavior.
From there, the pattern can become frighteningly predictable. Kids are drugged, fall behind in school, don’t get all the psychological support they need. And most horrifying: at times, when oversight should be at its highest, some children are physically and sexually abused by staff or by other children.
That is why Children’s Rights is taking its latest fight to Texas where, according to the state’s own records, serious incidents of abuse and neglect have been documented in poorly supervised group homes and institutions, where kids in long-term foster care are highly likely to be placed. Children’s Rights has noted shocking accounts of staff improperly restraining residents, choking children, hitting youth with objects and sexually abusing kids. This is simply unacceptable.
Ensuring that foster care systems are getting children permanent, loving families has been the lynchpin of our work since Children’s Rights was founded. With your support, we will continue to ensure that Texas and other states do right by America’s abused and neglected kids. It was my promise to Jeanette, and it’s my promise to you.
Read additional articles in Notes from the Field, the Children’s Rights Newsletter: