Loretta is keeping families together. Loretta got her start at The Legal Aid Society in the Juvenile Rights Practice as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Kramer Levin LLP, pioneering a new project called the Family Reunification Project. This project provided legal representation to children in the child welfare system and built a practice model around avoiding unnecessary removals of children from their homes and shortening the amount of time children linger in foster care.
The Family Reunification Project
As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Loretta was tasked with implementing this specific project to address the targeting of black and brown, low-income families that are over policed by the child welfare system. Loretta’s Family Reunification Project now helps attorneys across The Legal Aid Society empower the children and families they represent.
To that end, Loretta has offered trainings on her model to colleagues within our Juvenile Rights Practice and Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, a partner law firm that sponsored her fellowship. Looking forward, she hopes to build reunification teams within every borough office to better support family reunification across our city.
Throughout her time working on the Project, Loretta was proud to work as an advocate focusing on the strengths of families on behalf of her clients, the vast majority of which want to be with their families. “Children in foster care who have been separated from their families are often left out of the conversation about their own future, even when they have the best understanding of their family situation and are most affected by the determinations of the court.” For Loretta, this project has been an opportunity to change that. Even in the short time that Loretta has been working on the Family Reunification Project, the results of her advocacy empowering the child’s voice have been outstanding. Out of 102 clients, she has reunited 55 of them with their families. What’s more, the total number of children removed from their homes in her caseload has been cut in less than half because of her work, reducing removed children from 86% to 38%. Loretta strives to “bring the child’s voice to the forefront of reunification advocacy and keep families together.”
children reunited with their families
While the Project continues to impact the lives of families across our city, the individual victories are what stay with Loretta the most. In one case, Loretta represented a 5-year-old who was removed from her single-mother after being found outside in the middle of the night alone. After the removal, her client missed school for a week, was placed in two different foster homes in the span of that week, and was subjected to multiple, intrusive interviews by strangers. Loretta met with her client shortly after this horrific experience. Visibly traumatized, the young girl explained to Loretta how she ended up alone that night: her mother had left her with her grandmother, but when she woke up the grandmother was gone. When she went out to find her mother, she was picked up by the authorities. The young girl said that she had a great mother and, as Loretta remembers, she “wanted nothing more than to be back with her mother.” After highlighting her client’s experience in a removal hearing, she was returned to her mother and transformed into a completely different and happy child. By representing the voice of children in the system, Loretta is having a huge impact on individual children, empowering the next generation of New Yorkers to be with their families and by extension, empowering families and communities.
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