Showing posts from September, 2018

TPR: Why the Rush?

If a parent is unfit and cannot care for his child, we should automatically terminate his parental rights. Right?

Well, maybe not.

A few years back, one of my former clients – a child who had aged out of the foster care system – graduated from law school. I proudly watched her walk across the stage to receive her diploma. Sitting right next to me was her father, a man who had been incarcerated while his daughter struggled in foster care for eight years.

During those eight years, my client, separated from many of her siblings, bounced from one home to another. Yet over the years, she maintained a close connection with her father. After serving a lengthy prison sentence, he helped finance her college and law school educations. Now, he and I were sharing tears and hugs as we watched a truly miraculous moment.

In most jurisdictions across the country, this moment would never have occurred. Most courts would have terminated his parental rights years prior to her law school graduation. He …

"Call Me By My Name"

            “Mother.” “Mother” the Judge repeated again. “Are you listening?” My client, the “mother” in question, was distracted by her two children, ages 5 and 7, crawling all over her in Court. I tapped her shoulder, “Ms. ‘X’, the Judge is talking to you.” And while she was, understandably, distracted by her children, it is not uncommon for parents to fail to recognize when the Court is actually talking to or about them. In fact, some parents sit in court without ever really listening because the Court’s routine reference to a generic “mother” (or “father”, “step-father”, “grandma”, etc.) seems to have little to do with who they are.
            Not only does “mother” fail to recognize a woman’s legal identity (i.e. her legal name), it creates an identity based solely on the fact of her motherhood. Although the individual’s legal relationship to the child in question is obviously highly relevant to the discussion, this “name-calling” (or lack thereof) dehumanizes…

The Two Worlds Of Legal Representation

When Protection Hurts

When Protection Hurts

By Crystal Baker-Burr

"Can I have that quarter?" Anita asked me, pointing to the change she found in the chair in the courthouse interview room. I asked her what she needed it for. "I am saving all the change I find on the ground and keeping it with me,” she said. “If they ever kidnap me and my brothers again, I can take a cab back home to mommy."

I have been privileged to work as both an attorney for children and parents in Bronx Family Court. During the past five years, I represented families that were under investigation by Child Protective Services and at threat of separation. As an attorney for children, I was trained to spot cues of a child who was being coerced to repeat responses and to build a relationship of trust, so that I could find out what the child truly wanted and then fight for them in court.

It was through this work that I witnessed how children are separated from their families in the name of child welfare — even when the …