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How GOOD+ & CFR Help Bring Children Home

August 15, 2017 by Michele Cortese

The Center for Family Representation (CFR) has been working with GOOD+ Foundation for many years as part of their 2-Generation approach to tackling family poverty. The 2-Generation approach recognizes that we must provide support and services to both parents and their children to break this multi-generational cycle. By offering services to parents in crisis with free legal and social work services, we can help parents raise their children safely and achieve stability for their families—this helps position their children for success.

 At CFR, we provide assistance to families during a particularly vulnerable time—when the City believes there may be a risk to a child’s safety— to try to keep families together and make them stronger. We fight to keep children out of foster care, or limit their stay in the system. Our unique service model assigns every parent a lawyer, social worker, and the support of a parent advocate. Our parent advocates are parents who themselves were investigated by the City, lost their children to foster care and successfully reunified their families. 100% of our clients live in poverty and many struggle with issues like domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or unsafe housing, and mental illness. Our attorneys represent clients in family court to insure that the City honors its legal obligations to families separated by foster care, our social workers connect parents to needed services and our parent advocates provide invaluable mentoring. 

Our clients live in constant fear of having their children taken away from them. Their poverty compounds this stress and many of our clients struggle to provide basic necessities to their children, such as diapers and a safe sleep space. Our clients must make very difficult choices to save money, like buying cheaper diaper brands, which can produce rashes or lead to leaks. These rashes may lead our clients to be questioned by child protective services for child neglect. In some cases, we have seen a child taken into foster care due in part to a severe diaper rash, as the parents were deemed unable to provide the proper care to their child. Parents are distraught when their child is taken away and this pain is compounded by being labeled as an unfit parent, due almost entirely to their financial situation. We work with GOOD+ Foundation to provide essentials, such as diapers, bottles, pacifiers, and needed seasonal clothing to our clients. These donations make a major difference to our families. In many cases, these are the tools that help to keep their family together. By having access to diapers or cribs or strollers, many families have been able to show the workers from child protective services that they are fit to have custody of their children.

 GOOD+ Foundation helps us support our clients at many critical phases of our program. When children go into foster care, parents tend to have very limited visitation and in some cases, can have as little as one hour every week to spend time with their children. These visits are often in cold, institutional settings and can be very stressful, as parents are constantly monitored by case workers, who are using these visits to determine if they are fit to regain custody. Parents can be criticized for failing to engage meaningfully with their children if they don’t bring age-appropriate materials for play and time together.  Many times, the parent cannot afford to bring materials, such as crayons, books, or puzzles. This is where GOOD+ Foundation comes in.  They provide these toys, books, and games for our clients, giving them a way to engage in fun and positive ways with their children during their visits. A mother can feel proud she has introduced her child to a new game; a father can demonstrate his commitment to his toddler by bringing an age appropriate toy. By providing the tools the clients need to have a more enjoyable visit with their children, GOOD+ helps foster care workers see the parents in a more positive light.

We have one client who completed all requirements to have her children returned to her, but she lacked a double stroller, and the city caseworker felt that without it, the mother could not safely cross the street with her two young children.  This stroller appeared to be the one remaining barrier to reunifying this family.  GOOD+ Foundation sprang into action when CFR’s social worker called and GOOD+ sent over the stroller immediately.  This is just one vivid example of how the donations from GOOD+ Foundation support our model and help keep families together. Thank you to GOOD+ Foundation for your commitment to providing so many families with the essentials to create safe and comfortable homes with and for their children. We look forward to helping many more families stay together and grow stronger through this incredible partnership.

About the author:

Michele Cortese, Esq. serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Family Representation in New York City. Ms. Cortese has been a member of the faculty of the Practicing Law Institute, the New York State Judicial Institute and the Child Welfare League of America, has represented children and foster care agencies, and has written for the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law.  In May of 2010, Ms. Cortese received the Kathryn A. McDonald award from the New York City Bar Association for Excellence in Service to the Family Courts.

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