change the story.
Cassandra was born ten weeks prematurely in a “crack” house and was transported to the hospital by the Philadelphia Fire Department. After undergoing cocaine withdrawal Cassandra was placed in a temporary foster home.
In an environment where many children go unprotected, Child Advocates strives to ensure permanent resolution for children whose lives have been challenged and compromised. Child Advocates offers specialized legal help to these exceptional children and fights to secure medical services, special education, respite care and accessible transportation for children with special needs. With the help of a Child Advocate Attorney/Social Worker Team, Cassandra was placed with a foster family that was able to provide the consistent medical care she needs for her ongoing seizure disorder. Cassandra was recently adopted by her foster parents and is adored by all her new siblings.
Last February, in collaboration with New York City’s Asian-American Legal Defense Fund, Child Advocates took on the case of Hua Mei, a 15-year-old Chinese girl who had been involved in a trafficking ring. Traffickers recruit children from acrobatic programs in China, bring them to the United States with the promise of income and a better education, and, once in the country, would confiscate their immigration documents. The children had been performing at 2-3 venues a day for four years, were not fed regularly, were sleep-deprived, had not seen a doctor in years, and had not been paid for several months. Hua Mei made the decision to escape, even though troupe members were warned that they would be hunted if they left and their families would be punished. It took a lot of courage for Hua Mei to call a friend in Philadelphia and relocate here.
Once here, Child Advocates attempted to obtain immigration status through a “T” visa, reserved solely for victims of severe trafficking. Unfortunately Hua Mei’s experience was not classified as such and governmental agencies refused to prosecute the men involved in the ring. Since she had been abandoned by her mother in China and sold to the acrobatic troupe by her grandfather, Hua Mei was eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which was granted.
Hua Me was adjudicated dependent, her immigration paperwork was filed and she went to live with a foster family who mirrored her cultural, linguistic and religious background. She is in school and has quickly picked up the English language. Volunteer Attorney Pam Ende is investigating possible performing arts programs for her to join. Recently, the Boston Globe and New York Times reported on the arrest of the three men involved in this trafficking after several other children escaped from the troupe. The Department of Labor tried to build a case against the traffickers, but the troupe members refused to testify and, unfortunately, the case was dropped.
Already struggling to care for his infant sibling, Malik’s mother voluntarily placed Malik in foster care because of his behavioral issues. Malik’s father was incarcerated at the time. Though originally placed in a therapeutic foster home, Malik was institutionalized because he was involved in physical altercations with other children and tried to run away. He struggled in three subsequent therapeutic foster placements because of inconsistent wrap-around services, as well as his mother’s resistance to psychiatric services and medication, and her aggressive behavior with the various foster parents. Ultimately, Malik was placed with experienced foster parents who set consistent boundaries, and after a few rough months, he adjusted well in this home. Volunteer Attorney Veronica Rice from Dechert LLP and Child Advocate Staff Attorney Christine Trinkl Dougherty pursued adoption and battled bureaucratic delays until the adoption’s finalization hearing in October 2006. Malik’s progress continues in the loving and nurturing environment that his new parents and adoptive siblings provide.
Child Advocates was appointed to represent 2-year-old Ricardo and 1-year-old Tomas in March 2007 after a Child Protective Services Report revealed that their mother had choked Ricardo. When she reported that “voices” told her to do so, the mother was hospitalized and diagnosed with a major post-partum depressive disorder. After DHS conducted a home evaluation, the paternal grandparents were awarded custody.
Ricardo and Tomas are doing well in the care of their grandparents, and visit with their mother periodically. She is participating in outpatient therapy, found employment at a cookie factory and is living alone in a rental apartment close to the children. The professional support team – Child Advocates, Community Legal Services, Lutheran Family Services and DHS – is providing collaborative assistance that hopefully will facilitate the goal of family reunification.
Every child deserves a chance. Without vigorous advocacy, many children remain powerless in their quest for a happy childhood. By exploring the changes made in the life of twelve-year-old Samantha, one begins to appreciate the impact of our advocacy.
Samantha’s life, prior to intervention by Child Advocates, was far from ideal. She lived with her mother, her fifteen-year-old sister, and her sister’s baby. Their house was dirty and contained a minimal amount of food and furniture. Samantha’s mother, a drug addict, was extremely irresponsible, occasionally leaving the children alone in the house for an entire night. The morning after one of these nights, Samantha’s sister realized that she needed to obtain assistance before the situation grew worse. She telephoned Child Advocates to inform them that her mother had “left the night before to get high and didn’t come back.”
Child Advocates took on the important responsibility of advocating for Samantha. While Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”) worked towards finding an appropriate home for Samantha, Child Advocates made sure that Samantha’s best interests were met. Although DHS was unable to find local relatives with whom Samantha could live, both the Child Advocates and DHS were aware that Samantha had an uncle in Florida and that his home might be a possible home for Samantha. Unfortunately, the administrative procedure of transferring the Pennsylvania case to Florida is lengthy and quite complex. Therefore, however, DHS focused its energy and attention on foster care for Samantha, resulting in numerous placements for Samanatha. Child Advocates continued to advocate for Samantha’s placement with her uncle, who remained interested in caring for Samantha. Finally, authorization was received, and Samantha’s aunt and uncle welcomed the opportunity to make Samantha a permanent part of their life. Samantha was overjoyed when she heard the news, exclaiming she was “so excited to be with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in their home!” Child Advocates receives frequent updates on Samantha from her aunt and uncle, and she continues to thrive. After being granted the fair chance that she deserves, Samantha is delighted to call this new place her home.
Theresa became involved in the child welfare system when she continued to miss follow-up appointments from a stab wound. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia alerted the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS). Mom was drug dependent and unable to care for her daughter so DHS placed Theresa in a foster care home. Child Advocates was asked to step in and help.
Theresa bounced from home to home due to behavioral problems. In April 2008, she ran away – she was considered by many to be a lost child. Theresa was found two months later due to shoplifting charges and placed in a juvenile detention facility.
Her Child Advocate Team, comprised of Volunteer Attorney Jim Wells of Haines & Associates and Staff Attorney Marti Little, visited Theresa almost every week. Initially, Theresa didn’t speak to them. She wanted to go home to Mom and was angry at a system that kept them apart. But Mom was still using drugs and couldn’t afford to heat her home.
Relentlessly, Theresa’s Child Advocate team continued weekly visits, believing that they could help her. One day, Marti brought Theresa her favorite book. Her smile told Jim and Marti that they had made a connection! Theresa felt that her Child Advocate team cared abouther and she decided to trust them. Her life began to change!
Child Advocates fought to remove Theresa from the juvenile detention facility. In fall 2008, she was finally moved to an appropriate home that could address her needs. Theresa participated in counseling and became a role model for the other girls, teaching them how to crochet! Mom completed drug and alcohol counseling for addiction.
Theresa’s family rallied together, and today, Mom’s utility debt is being paid! In June 2009, Theresa moved back home with Mom. They will soon celebrate Theresa’s 16th birthday together!
In August 2005, 10-month old Jose arrived at St. Christophis’s Hospital for Children with evidence of blunt trauma to his abdomen, four fractured limbs and a dislocated right femur. Jose’s mother denied abusing his. Child Advocates was appointed to represent Jose.
Jose’s Child Advocate team was instrumental in highlighting his case to law enforcement authorities, and in ensuring that his medical records were reviewed by child abuse experts. Criminal charges were brought against Jose’s mothis, who eventually pled guilty to physically abusing Jose.
Jose’s volunteer attorney and staff social worker guaranteed that his foster family had the needed resources and training to care for Jose’s ongoing medical issues, which required constant monitoring. Jose participated in speech and physical therapies and attended a specialized preschool.
Despite the guilty plea, Jose’s mother refused to take responsibility for Jose’s injuries. Jose’s Child Advocate team requested an expert psychiatric parenting capacity evaluation to determine whether Jose could ever be safely returned home to his mother. The expert provided critical testimony at the contested involuntary termination of parental rights hearing that paved the way for Jose’s foster family to adopt his in 2009. Jose is now happily adopted and is doing well with a loving family.
Sarah & Amy*
When North Penn Legal Services contacted the Support Center for Child Advocates, the Court had already found Sarah and Amy to be severely neglected by their mother and father. Sarah had been sexually abused by a cousin. Both parents were drug-addicted and the girls had witnessed their mother’s arrest for drug use; they were traumatized. Sarah and Amy needed help, so Volunteer Attorney Joy Grese of Morgan Lewis and Social Worker Megan Somsanith stepped in to help.
Sarah and Amy were placed in a foster care home where both girls thrived. They performed well in school and received counseling. Sarah received sexual abuse therapy. The Child Advocate team established a reunification plan for their family, which included housing and drug rehabilitation goals for the girls’ parents. Volunteer Attorney Joy Grese partnered with the Court to establish rigorous standards for reunification. Sarah and Amy’s parents found stable housing with a relative and successfully completed drug and alcohol treatment. For three years, Child Advocates worked with the Court and family to ensure that all services were utilized to achieve the best outcome for Sarah and Amy.
Today, the girls are doing well at home with their mother and father. Both parents are drug-free and the entire family continues to receive counseling through Tabor Services.
Five-year-old Grace was born with cleidocranial dysostosis, resulting in a soft skull and two missing clavicles. To prevent brain injury, she was required to wear a helmet. When the Philadelphia Department of Human Services found Grace, she was at home without her helmet and had welt marks on her chest. Grace explained that she had been hit with a belt.
The Court called Child Advocates to represent Grace, who was adjudicated dependent and placed in a foster care home. After visiting Grace, Volunteer Attorney Andrew Thomson and Child Advocates Staff Attorney Noreena Sondhi immediately requested that the Court remove Grace and place her with a family prepared to care for a child with medical needs. Grace’s condition required constant attention and her Child Advocate team fought for a better home for her. The Court agreed with Child Advocates.
Grace’s great aunt offered to care for her until her mom was able to do so. Child Advocates worked with the Court to establish a reunification plan for Grace and her mother, who while non-abusive, needed to provide a safe home for her daughter. Grace’s mom met often with Andrew and Noreena, attended court hearings, and had supervised visits with her daughter. She worked hard to rebuild their relationship.
After nine months, Grace returned home to her mom. While Grace will always face medical challenges, she has the full support of her mother and family and is doing well in their care.
It starts off like a dreadful nightly news story that happens in other places in the world to people we’ll never know. A warring African tribe attacks a neighboring tribe. In the hostilities, 17-year-old “Taban” is badly hurt, and family members are seriously injured or killed. Anxious for Taban’s survival and unable to care for him, Taban’s family scrapes together the funds to pay for the youth’s passage to the United States. With minimal English language skills, Taban arrives without a passport or papers of any kind, unable to tell his story.
Together with other agencies, Child Advocates worked to change Taban’s story. After relocating to a local foster care setting, Taban began attending high school. He loves chemistry, art, ESL classes, and playing soccer. Through the efforts of Child Advocate attorney Pam Ende and law intern Amanda Stewart, Taban was adjudicated dependent and is closer to gaining permanency in the U.S.
He also got to tell his story—in his own words, in his own language.
Child Advocates‘ call for help with translation was promptly answered by Quantum Inc., who took on the work pro bono. Quantum is a local translation service with a large heart and a world-wide network of superb translators. Translator Fouza Musse came to Child Advocates’ offices to speak with Taban and help prepare him for his dependency hearing. Her incredible kindness, her patience and diligence in ensuring that Taban was comfortable and understood everything that was before him inspired Child Advocates’ profound gratitude. More than anything, we were touched beyond words that Taban finally got to use his own to share the harrowing details of his story for the first time in many months. His profound joy and relief at speaking with someone from his own country in his native language was palpable.
Our friends at Quantum Inc. tell us that Taban’s reaction is not unusual for people with limited English language skills who are faced with a monolith of confusing cultural and linguistic interactions. Quantum Executive Director Quan Pham, President Jean Wang, and Translation Project Manager Susana Volquarts lead an expert team who care deeply about people like Taban. They make sure that their clients—hospitals, law firms, businesses, social service agencies, mental health units—are successful in their service and dealings with people from other countries. More than mere interpreters, Quantum translators are highly trained and qualified cultural brokers, who work closely with clients to eliminate language and cultural barriers. With competitive pricing, around-the-clock availability, and a service menu that includes written translation, cultural sensitivity training, and in-person, telephonic, and conference interpretation, Quantum serves as a one-stop solution for all translation needs. Talk to them at (215) 627-5570.
Report a story
If you suspect a child is being abused, you should call the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare hotline at 800-932-0313. In Philadelphia, you can also call DHS directly at 215-683-6100
If you think that someone abused you or a friend, you should tell a trusted adult right away. You can also call 800-932-0313 or 911 anytime.
Names have been changed to protect identity.