The Precepts In The World

 Reflections by Students in the Mountains and Rivers Order

from Mountain Record 31.1, Fall 2012


I work as an attorney for children in Brooklyn Family Court. Essentially, I represent kids ranging in age from between newborn to eighteen in cases where New York City Administration for Children’s Services has alleged that parents have abused or neglected their children. In New York, once a child can articulate a position (usually around seven years old), attorneys for children directly represent the child’s position—so if my client wants to return home to their abusive father or their untreated bi-polar mother, my job is to zealously advocate for that outcome.

Now, my job also includes counseling my clients to help them arrive at a fully considered position and to be aware of all their options,―and just because the child wants to return home to an abusive or unsettled environment doesn’t mean that the judge is going to order it. Nevertheless, once my client has arrived at a position, be it returning home, entering foster care, or accepting services, that position becomes my position. Normally I represent all the children in the family, which can be up to seven or eight kids, and overall, I currently represent around 170 kids.

The cases filed by ACS almost exclusively involve families from poorer neighborhoods in the borough, and the families are about 95% black or Hispanic. The family problems and issues that I deal with range from profoundly dysfunctional and damaging to mildly off-kilter. To get a sense of my day-to-day, one need only keep in mind that I work in a court—a place defined by disagreement and conflict; and I work with families—and we all know how crazy family can be. The problems of my work environment are further exacerbated by extreme poverty and race issues, and overarching all of this madness is a contradictory and confused bureaucracy that represents a citizenry that would prefer that these problems just didn’t exist. All this is not to say that there isn’t some genuine brightness within all the gloom, and for some reason that I continue to grapple with, I do like my job. But it can be, to say the least, trying. It is also a fertile place for working with the precepts.