BY: LILY VOSOUGHI
Brunilda Rivera is a 44-year old single mother starting over. After battling an ongoing addiction to drugs, she ended up serving 18-months in prison. But, within 6 months after her release in 2005 she had beaten the odds. She was sober, found a stable job, a home, and got back her 13-year-old son, Brandon. Little did she know that her greatest challenge was still left: rebuilding her relationship with her son.
“I felt like, oh my god the nightmare is finally over, now we can start building our relationship again,” says Rivera, reflecting back on the day she regained custody of her son. “It was hard and it was very trying, especially through ACS [Administration for Children’s Services], because it’s not easy to get your son back once your child is in the system.”
On any given day, over 1.5 million children in this country have a parent serving time in a state or federal prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last 10 years, concluding that 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers. The likelihood of reunification for children in foster care and their incarcerated mothers is slim; in fact, they are four times more likely than all other children to “age out of the system” than reunite with their parents.
“Our preference is always reunification with the biological parents, absolutely, but it’s up to us as a city child welfare agency that the child does end up with a family,” says Paula Fendall, Director of Children of Incarcerated Parents Program at NYC’s Administration of Children’s Services. “In which case there will be termination of parental rights, we would make sure that we find a stable loving family for them to be adopted by.”