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New York Spotlight

Families Know Best—Listen and Learn, Seen and Heard

The New York Office for Justice Initiatives’ Child Welfare Court Improvement Project hosted a two-day virtual series to celebrate National Reunification Month. Titled “Families Know Best—Listen and Learn, Seen and Heard,” each webinar offered valuable guidance on how to protect family integrity and unity.

Practitioners opened the first day with an overview of state and federal legal frameworks surrounding family reunifications. Speakers highlighted the perspective that families should be offered the resources they need to stay together and identified ways to reduce the negative impact of government intervention on families. Later in the day, Professor Dorothy Roberts and Shereen White also offered a presentation titled “History and Harms of Removals and Family Separation.” This presentation focused on the multiple types of trauma (e.g., individual, collective, intergenerational) that are inflicted by the system on different groups, with an emphasis on racial equity issues and implicit bias.

The second day of the event featured presentations on reasonable efforts, transparency in family-led service planning, and best practices for successful reunifications. Presenters emphasized the importance of best practices such as timely assignment of counsel, SMART services planning, family team meetings, using trauma-informed care, and solution-focused strategies by practitioners.  Presenter Angela Burton, Special Counsel for Interdisciplinary Matters,  explained that “the key message of the event was that, from start to finish, the focus should be on family integrity and family preservation. Conceived in close collaboration with system-impacted parents and young adults, the program was designed to center the experiences and wisdom of families.”

The event also offered attendees the opportunity to hear the stories of people with lived experience during roundtable discussions. Moderated by Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, the discussion focused on effective practices for successful and sustainable reunifications.