Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Recently, the search for a missing teenage girl from Essex County came to a close when she was found in New York.
14-year-old Jashyah Moore ran away and told authorities of neglect and mistreatment by her mother going back as long as she could remember. The girl said her mother stabbed her with a knife, “causing a laceration that is still visible.” If Jashyah didn’t cook for herself and her younger brother, neither would eat. Their mother, Jamie Moore, even refused to enroll the girl in school this year. Instead, she forced the child onto the street to panhandle. When the girl’s allegations were raised and found to be true, she and her three-year-old brother were removed from the home, and their mother was charged.
Unfortunately, children like Jashyah and her brother are routinely failed by the systems that are supposed to protect them. The reality is that, once out of infancy, Black and brown children who are in foster care are often last, if ever, to be adopted. These are the children who often come from families that end up entangled in the criminal justice system at disproportionate rates.
According to a 2016 report from the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Black children are represented in foster care at 1.8 times their rate in the population and they will stay in foster care longer than white children. These children often don’t encounter anyone who looks like them from the time they are separated from their families until they’re placed. Too often, they don’t have advocates for them who look as they do, especially when family courts are involved.
Essex County Surrogate's Court makes this exceedingly clear. More people of color are needed in this process at every point. From the attorneys who represent the children, to the foster homes where they find shelter, to their final adoptive homes. While we recognize that jurists can and do step in as they are needed, it’s necessary to acknowledge that there are issues of culture, race and mere recognition that cannot be translated, especially with children who are dealing with the traumatic situation of being separated from their family and placed in a courtroom setting.
The Essex County Surrogate’s Court is hosting a legal continuing education webinar on Tuesday, December 7, 12 to 2 p.m., called "The Nuts & Bolts of Adoption: How to Avoid Pitfalls." It will be conducted via Zoom and is designed to help attorneys avoid pitfalls that may negatively affect the adoption process.
While going through the child welfare system, it’s essential that Black and brown young people have the support of attorneys who can relate to them, and attorneys of color can represent their best interests. It's essential that they have foster parents and advocates that can represent their needs. It’s essential that they are adopted into homes that understand the particular set of challenges they face.
Jashyah Moore’s situation has shined a national spotlight on Essex County. How advocates will meet the challenge of her case has yet to be seen. But for her sake, and the sake of other vulnerable youth, it’s imperative that they have more touchpoints throughout the system with adults who have a dynamic understanding of their experiences, their cultures and their trauma.
You can learn more about the adoption process at EssexSurrogate.com, or look up your local Court Appointed Special Advocates to get involved as a volunteer in the court system.
Alturrick Kenney is the Surrogate of the County of Essex in the State of New Jersey.