Each year child protective services removes thousands of children from their parents and places them in foster care. It does this to prevent abuse or neglect, but the experience is traumatic for children and parents alike. How do caseworkers and judges make the momentous decision, whether or not to remove a child, and how could the system be changed for the better? This panel originates from Larissa MacFarquhar's article When Should a Child Be Taken from His Parents? in the August 7 & 14 edition of The New Yorker.
ZABRINA ALEGUIRE is currently co-founding, with colleague Eliza Patten, the first interdisciplinary family defense agency in Alameda County: East Bay Family Defenders, a fiscally-sponsored project of Dependency Advocacy Center. A NACC-certified Child Welfare Law Specialist, Zabrina was a Kirkland & Ellis Public Interest Fellow at The Door’s Legal Services Center, defending adolescent parents, most of whom were foster children themselves, when the State illegally separated them from their infant children. She then joined the first class of attorneys at Brooklyn Family Defense Practice, defending indigent parents against State-initiated removal, or threatened removal, of children from their homes. Zabrina served as Education Project Director at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco and then Acting Legal Director at Equal Justice Society. She teaches Juvenile Law at University of San Francisco School of Law.
LARISSA MACFARQUHAR is the author of Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help (Penguin Press, 2015). She has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. Her subjects have included John Ashbery, Edward Albee, Derek Parfit, Patricia Churchland and Paul Churchland, Richard Posner, and Noam Chomsky among many others. Before joining The New Yorker, MacFarquhar was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at The Paris Review.
VICTORIA RUIZ has been a Mentor Parent since 2012 at Dependency Advocacy Center, the provider of free legal representation to parents and children involved in Santa Clara County’s child welfare system. Victoria, herself, was previously a parent who had her child removed and navigated her way through the Juvenile Dependency courts. She successfully addressed issues of substance abuse and mental health, reunited with her son, and had her case dismissed. Victoria works as part of a multidisciplinary team that includes an attorney and social worker to provide current parent clients with guidance, support, hope, and resources as they make their way through the juvenile dependency system and attempt to reunite their families.
MICHAEL S. WALD has been a member of the SLS faculty since 1967, where he has been deeply devoted to the cause of children’s rights and welfare, and a frequent expert advisor on youth and children’s legal issues nationwide. He has had a distinguished career as an academic researcher, teacher, and public official. He is one of the leading national authorities on legal policy toward children, and he drafted the American Bar Association’s Standards Related to Child Abuse and Neglect. Professor Wald has served as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, executive director of the San Francisco Department of Human Services, and senior advisor to the president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.