At the end of the 20th century, New York City had one of the worst child welfare systems in the United States. Often families’ difficulties festered without help from the city until the situation exploded in the mid-90s. The city’s response was to place children in foster care, and by the early 1990s there were 50,000 children in care, more than at any other time in the city’s history.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, for the first time in the history of the United States, a movement developed of parents who have been embroiled in the child welfare system. Their efforts, working with their allies, brought about unprecedented improvements that have resulted in more benefits to children and families, systemic changes that appear to be lasting. By 2011, fewer than 15,000 children were in New York City’s foster care system.
The parents whose stories are traced in this book were victims of domestic violence, homelessness and poverty. Some became dependent on drugs. They all had the crushing, enraging and at times transforming experience of having their children taken from them and put into foster care by child protective services. Many of these parents entered drug treatment programs, got intensive counseling, left abusive relationships, got jobs, filed lawsuits and were reunited with their children. Some took the next step and were trained as parent organizers. They learned how to fight effectively against bad child welfare policies that leave families victimized by a system that is supposed to help them.
This book focuses on the lives of six mothers who have come back “from the other side, ” and their allies-child welfare commissioners, social workers, lawyers and foundation officers who used their resources to help parents and advocates, and recounts how their courage and resilience was harnessed to bring about the most significant changes in the history of New York’s child welfare system.