What Surprised me at New Alternatives for Children

Maguire Herriman ’16

Maguire Herriman is from Westampton, New Jersey. At Princeton, he majored in the Woodrow Wilson School while pursuing a certificate in Global Health and Health Policy. Outside the classroom, he was involved with OA, Orange Key, intramural sports, and a substantial benefactor of Studio 34 pizza. Following his fellowship year, Maguire will start at medical school this summer. Here, he writes about his experience at New Alternatives for Children.

Since last summer, I have been working as a Case Associate at New Alternatives for Children (NAC) in New York. NAC is a non-profit that provides foster care management for children with special medical needs from New York’s five boroughs. Through my role, I spend much of my time supervising visits that occur between biological parents and their children in foster care. As you can expect, the context of these visits vary greatly from family to family, but I’ve most enjoyed forming relationships with both the children and their parents during my time here. Outside of these visits at our agency, I also make home visits periodically to different foster homes around the city. (I can now confidently say I’ve rode on every subway line in New York!) While most of my work is focused within the social work department, I’ve also been fortunate to engage with all the different services NAC provides. I’ve shadowed with the medical team, tutored with the education division, and in a few months will help run the NAC Olympics with the recreation department!

The new lobby at New Alternatives for Children

Reflecting on this past year, I have too many thoughts to compress into one blog post, but I’ll try to illustrate one realization. Coming into this year, I fully expected to be emotionally moved by the many challenges faced by the children NAC serves and looked forward to helping them in varied ways. And no doubt, our children have a wide array of needs and show more resilience at the age of 6 or 7 than I could hope to muster as a 22-year-old college graduate. What I was more surprised by, however, was just how much help the parents involved with NAC also needed and how disadvantaged they had been. I wouldn’t say that these parents made no mistakes or bear no responsibility for their situations; unfortunately, the reason their children are in foster care is largely due to their own poor decisions. But I will assert that these parents were often dealt an unfair hand. Many parents we serve grew up in the foster care system themselves as children. Oftentimes they began abusing drugs and alcohol at an early age, or did not graduate from high school, or have cycled in and out of the criminal justice system, or have untreated medical and mental health diagnoses, or are currently homeless, or have been victims of domestic violence.  In some instances, a parent faces all of these disadvantages. By no means do these circumstances exempt the abuse or neglect of a child. But it does make me question a society where we attempt to fix the problems these circumstances engender with rehab programs, shelters, and indeed a system of foster care,  yet simultaneously neglect addressing the root causes.

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