So often, once a child is put into the juvenile system — whether as a CHINS or a juvenile delinquent — the parents are swept to the side as others make decisions about what is best for the child and ultimately the family. The parents voice, if heard at all, is just one among many, which many include the judge, probation, the Department of Child Services, the prosecutor, the defense attorney on behalf of the child, the CASA/GAL, and service providers.
Several organizations have rallied parents who have previosly been in the system to reach back to help those who are currently on the journey. While many are located outside Indiana, they offer lessons that can be adopted anywhere and a model for helping give the parents and the family a bigger voice about what the family needs to stand independently once again.
Justice for Families is a national alliance of local organizations that focuses on “ending the youth incarceration epidemic.” The organization was “founded and [is] run by parents and families who have experienced the juvenile justice system with their children.” The two primary goals of Justice for Families are: “(1) to transform how juvenile justice systems operate so that families have voice and power in both how and what decisions are made and (2) move resources away from youth incarceration toward direct investments in the youth, families, and communities most harmed by these policies.”
The Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) is based in New York and works to “change/transform the quality of services provided to New York City families through the New York City child welfare system.” “Most of [the] staff and board of directors are parents who have had children placed in foster care, succeeded in reuniting their own families, and now use this experience both to help other parents facing similar challenges, and to organize for system change.” Two resources that stand out are:
- The Survival Guide to the NYC Child Welfare System: A Workbook for Parents by Parents, which gives very detailed information about what to expect when thrust into the child welfare system and advice on ways to avoid contact with the system. A similar resource would be helpful to parents here in Indiana.
- The CWOP Child Safety Conferences, which pair a CWOP community representative with parents attending child safety conferences “to provide them with emotional support and resources, as well as information about their rights and responsibilities within the child welfare system.” Given how many parents go unrepresented by counsel in CHINS cases in Indiana, these mentors could fill a role in aiding the parents until such time as the right to counsel is mandated in these cases.
The idea for this post came from Rise magazine, which “trains parents to write about their experiences with the child welfare system in order to support parents and parent advocacy and guide child welfare practitioners and policymakers in becoming more responsive to the families and communities they serve.”
Finally, Grace Bauer, who is co-director of Justice for Families, spoke at a conference this blogger attended and mentioned how much can be learned by having a neutral party debrief with parents at the close of cases and aggregate the data to see what worked and did not work from the parents’ perspective. With this data, the court participants can work to develop new tools and processes that inform and empower the family to participate more fully and to help obtain services that lead to reunification and independence from the juvenile court system.