If You Teach Family Law and Haven’t Seen It…

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You’ll probably want a copy of this NYT Magazine article. Below is a short excerpt:

…“To whom it may concern,”she typed,”I am writing to you to appeal for the return of my children.”Marie (I am using her middle name, as well as the middle names of her children, to protect their privacy) lost her kids, all of them boys, to the State of Connecticut more than a year ago. The Stamford office of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families has placed the boys in an array of shelters and foster homes; it has recently found potential adoptive parents for four of them; and earlier this month it filed a petition to end Marie’s role and rights as a mother. If the department, known as D.C.F., succeeds in court, she will lose her children forever.

For the time being, Marie is still entitled to spend about one hour each week with her sons. I first met her in early April, in a visiting room at the Stamford D.C.F. office. A cloth wall-hanging of panda bears in a classroom adorned one scuffed wall, and crayon scribbles covered another. Christopher, who is 3 and Marie’s second-youngest, was sick that day and had stayed at his foster home, and Joseph, at 16 Marie’s oldest, had fled during an outing with the family’s D.C.F. social worker, Annette Johnson, the previous October and was nowhere to be found. So just three of the boys gathered around Marie, who is Puerto Rican-American and wore her long fingernails painted pink, her dark hair pulled into a ponytail with a powder blue tie, a gold nose stud, several tattoos, blue jeans and tan work boots. Between the ponytail and her short, square build, she looked half cheerleader and half fullback. She managed her cranky blond year-and-a-half-old baby, Diomedes, in her lap, and played a game called Jumpin’ Monkeys with Antonio and Anthony, who are 8 and 6 and shot plastic monkeys from a spring-loaded launcher, trying to hook them in the branches of a little tree. In her low, raspy voice she gave them advice when they missed (“Papi, you got to hit it soft”) and congratulated them when they scored (“You got a banana!”). …

The article focuses on families and social workers, and provides a lot of important insight for people who have never been poor. Growing up, I had cousins who were in foster care, but that didn’t prepare me for “the system” once I was an attorney. I used to do a fair amount of pro bono work for parents who were “in the system” and it gave me a lot of sleepless nights: “What if I don’t get my client her kids back? What if I do and she hurts them?” Lawyers who do this kind of work for years on end have my deepest admiration.

–Ann Bartow

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