15 May 2008 / Posted by cr
Manny was just three years old when he and his brother were first taken away from their home and placed in foster care after multiple confirmed reports of abuse and neglect.
In the years that followed, they would be bounced around to more than ten different homes and subjected to one ordeal after another.
At times, the two brothers were separated from one another. Manny was placed in the wrong grade at school. At one point, he was moved all the way to Florida and placed in a home where authorities later discovered more than 20 other children living under intolerable conditions.
Back in New Jersey, Manny was reunited with his brother — in a home where their foster parents kept them locked in the basement, in the dark, feeding them bowls of table scraps. The foster parents spoke mostly Spanish. Manny speaks only English.
Manny’s nightmare came to an end when a foster mother named Joan fought to get him and his brother out of the abusive home to which the state of New Jersey had confined them. Children’s Rights named both of them as plaintiffs in the class action that we brought against the state in 1999, seeking top-to-bottom reform of its failing child welfare system.
Since the landmark settlement of the case in 2003, great progress has been made. A cabinet-level children’s agency has been created. Adoptions for children who cannot return to their parents are up and caseloads among the state’s child welfare workers have been reduced, enabling them to provide children like Manny with the care and attention they need. In 2007, the state more than tripled its number of licensed foster and adoptive families as compared to the year before. It also finalized a record 1,540 adoptions — exceeding the court-ordered requirement of 1,400 and the previous state record of 1,418 adoptions in 2002 — and reduced the number of children on its waitlist for adoption, from 2,260 in January 2006 to 1,295 a year later.
Manny was one of the children who had been on that list. On December 17, 2007, in a brief ceremony at a courthouse in Essex County, New Jersey, he was legally adopted by his foster mother, Joan.
Manny is finishing high school now. He plays lacrosse and basketball on his school’s varsity teams and also enjoys football. He is already looking forward to attending college, possibly in Boston, and plans to study either history — his favorite subject — or sports management. He is thriving with his loving family in his permanent home.