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“A Struggle for Justice”: One Family’s Fight to Get Their Children Back From the Foster Care System

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President Bush held a nationally televised press conference Tuesday where he proudly announced a new adoption campaign, urging American families to adopt children in foster care. He unveiled the first ever national web site on adoption,, and announced a series of PSAs featuring Laura Bush and actor Bruce Willis.

As the Associated Press reported, the adoption event in the White House’s grand East Room allowed Bush to appeal to his voter base of Christian conservatives by promoting an alternative to abortion and to burnish his credentials as a “compassionate conservative” by extending a government hand to at-risk children.


  • George Bush at a news conference on 07/23/02 launching a national adoption campaign.

Speeding up adoptions may sound on the surface like a good idea, but today we’re going to go below the surface, and we’re going to look at foster care, and what it means when biological parental rights are severed.

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in 'The Souls of Black Folk,' “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” This is one of those dividing line stories. Here in NY, there is an agency called ACS–the Administration for Children’s Services. The vast majority of white people don’t even know this acronym. But a good number of African-Americans and Latinos know it all too well, and fear it.

Today we’re going to tell you one story— the story of the Pena family. Lucy and Jose Pena live in the Bronx. Ten years ago they had a son. Lucy tested positive for drugs when she delivered their second child. ACS put both children in foster care over seen by St. Dominic’s Home , a Bronx private non-profit.

A few years later, Lucy gave birth to Stacey, and was allowed to keep her.

Lucy and Jose have been clean for nine years now. But ACS will not return their children. In 1995 the Penas parental rights were terminated, they were told they could no longer see their two older children. While they were devastated, they were slightly comforted by the belief that the children had been adopted together.

Last year, in an unprecedented lawsuit, six year old Stacey sued to assert her birthright to meet her older brother and sister. It was only then, in a closed family court hearing that the Penas learned that the family that adopted Nancy had rejected Joseph, sending him back into the system. Yet, both St. Dominic’s and ACS claimed at that hearing they didn’t know where Joseph was. Though the Penas have continually asked for Joseph to be returned, he remains in foster care. While ACS would not join us for today’s program, a spokesperson said Joseph is now in a residential facility.

Today we are going to hear a documentary about the Pena family. It’s called “A Struggle for Justice” It is produced and narrated by Woody Henderson


  • “A Struggle for Justice”


  • Woody Henderson, filmmaker and narrator of “A Struggle for Justice.” He is also president of the New York chapter of the National Action Network.
  • Hank Orenstein, social worker, director of the Child Welfare Project and a lawyer with the New York City Public Advocates office.

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