Ten years ago, low income families in New York City who faced losing their children to foster care had very little support in the family court and child welfare systems. The result was that children suffered—they were unnecessarily placed in foster care and stayed for much too long.
I founded CFR in 2002 with others who had been advocates for children and saw firsthand how poor families were torn apart. As lawyers and social workers, we set out to change the paradigm for legal services provided to poor families. We knew that, in the words of former Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) President Douglas Nelson, “Children do better when their parents do better.”
CFR came about during a crisis: numerous articles and reports cited the challenges that poor families experienced when navigating the child welfare and family court systems. They always referenced the need for a better system of counsel for parents, who were then represented by solo attorneys working for low rates and without the aid of a social worker or parent advocate with experience in the system. The lack of an interdisciplinary approach was a critical gap.
Fortunately, there was serious interest from many child welfare experts who had been talking and writing about this issue for years. This gap in services for parents was also known to AECF, which, from its work helping reform the NYC child welfare system, was familiar with family court proceedings and interested in supporting a new model of representation. In 2001, with a group of dedicated people behind me, I approached AECF to ask if they would receive a proposal to fund a new model of parent representation based on an interdisciplinary approach. They agreed—and CFR was born.
With AECF’s cornerstone support, CFR opened our doors ten years ago with two employees in a sublet space in Brooklyn and a budget of just $250,000. While we primarily provided training and technical assistance in those early days, the core values we developed continue to guide us: fiscal responsibility, innovation, and efficiency—while providing excellent representation and achieving outstanding results.
Today, CFR has a talented staff of 77 and a dedicated board, many of whom have been with us since our founding. Our budget is now more than $7 million, raised through hundreds of generous supporters. Our teams have served more than 3,600 families, kept thousands of children safely home and generated more than $40 million in taxpayer savings.
It’s not every day that one’s visions come true, and I’m honored and humbled as CFR begins its next decade of serving New York’s families.