I'm Sorry We Failed You

I turned on my computer to start my day’s work when a reminder popped up on my screen. Today marked the birthday of Alonzo, a child I had represented many years back when he was a nine-year old child in foster care.

The reminder flooded my mind with so many memories – his sweet smile; his constant efforts to get fries at a local McDonald’s; his persistent negotiations to trade information about his life for candy. Although just a kid, he knew how to use his charm to win over adults.   

But on this day, Alonzo was celebrating his entrance into the world from a very different place – the state penitentiary – where he has been for almost seven years, and where he will likely remain for the next four decades. When Alonzo was 18 years old, he and several friends set out to rob a schoolteacher. The robbery went awry, and they ended up killing him. In his mug shot, Alonzo’s charming smile was replaced with a menacing scowl. He no longer resembled the kid in my back seat headed to McDonald’s…

Best Interest Is In the Eye Of The Beholder

A few weeks ago on a phone call discussing how systems can support keeping kids safely with their families, a judge abruptly interjected, “I don’t like this focus on the rights of parents. We should always be focusing on the best interest of children at all times, before a kid is removed and once a court is involved!”

In my years practicing child welfare law, I’ve heard this refrain many, many times. It makes my head hurt.

The refrain pains me because we all know that the “best interest of the child” is not an objective standard. All of us disagree – all the time – about what we think is best for a child. What time should they go to bed? Should they co-sleep with us? How should they be disciplined? Should they be raised in a “free-range” parenting style? Or is helicoptering around them best? Gather a group of parents, chat for a few minutes, and you’ll quickly realize how much we disagree about what is good for children.

This dynamic exists within the child welfare system as well. In…

A Keychain, A Box of Chocolates, and A Certificate of Emancipation (written by Ikea Lanham)


A few days ago, I walked into a room full of young adults who had spent time in our foster care system, including some who had emancipated after many years. Entering a room full of folks who have experienced our foster care system personally is a familiar situation for me, and it’s one of the greatest privileges and joys of my job.I meet and speak with as many young people and parents with lived experience as possible.In fact, this group was the second group of young people I had meet with that day.
In looking around the room, I realized that I knew nearly all of the young people in the room.I mean Ireally knew them - Kayla, Joshua, Diego, David, Leroy, Scout, Lupe, Eric-lee and so many others.I had met these people on multiple occasions. We had been in meetings together, attended the same events, and had lots of conversation.I had heard their stories, been in photos together, and befriended many on social media (the only reason I stay on social media).I even mentor one of these y…

A System In Need Of Umpires