Judge Joan McMenemy said she often sees good people in bad situations. She is grateful for the organizations that help families.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Four years ago, Jose Miranda was detained by immigration and was taken away from his son, Eli, for whom he was the sole caretaker.
He knew at the time he wasn't in a good position to properly care for his son. He was struggling with securing stable housing. He needed regular employment. He started working with the state Department of Children and Family on all of those issues, knowing he could eventually get back to his son.
And he did.
"He was released, returned to Berkshire County, returned to his employment, and went on to successfully reunify with Eli," said attorney Victoria Bleier, who represented Miranda in court throughout the process.
It took time. Eli was returned to Jose in February 2016. It took another few months before the Juvenile Court gave him custody. And then, he still needed to get custody through Family Court. But on Tuesday, Miranda was recognized by Berkshire Children and Families, the Juvenile Court, DCF, and state lawmakers for his dedication and commitment to reunite with his son.
"This is a family that truly deserves to be recognized for their effort," Bleirer said. "Mr. Miranda is one of the nicest and hard-working clients I've ever had the privilege to represent."
Miranda is not alone; two other families were also honored for taking on the challenges of getting their children back from the state's care on Tuesday but didn't want to share their stories.
Families are separated because of varied circumstances. In some cases, parents are struggling with addiction and aren't fit to care for their kids. With others, it is poverty or trouble with the law. It is never a good day for parents when a court issues an order for their children to be removed. But sometimes it is needed whether the parent recognizes it at the time or not, say officials.
Through the hard work, many families are able to overcome the obstacles keeping them apart. In the end, they are better for it.
Michael Dsida, deputy chief counsel from the committee for public counsel services, said, in fact, most families ultimately get reunified. He said love drives parents in these situations to stay with their children, but they often need the help from DCF, judges, probation officers, and lawyers.
"Even on their worst days, love kept them going. Love is powerful but it isn't always enough," Dsida said.
Judge Joan McMenemy, first justice of Berkshire Juvenile Court, sees it all the time -- decent people who are just in a bad position.
"I see every day that there are heartaches and conflicts. There has always been and will continue to be a struggle for many to live in tough economic times and we know that some really good at heart and decent citizens will struggle with addiction, affordable housing shortages, tough job markets, and the rising cost of everything, and the stress of being overscheduled. And sometimes the efforts of those who would even bring them down," McMenemy said.
"But as you all know, of the tough situations people find themselves in, there are so many good and helpful people committed who work for the wonderful agencies that are represented here today here in the Berkshires and across the state who help families overcome difficulties, support and strengthen these families, and make it all work."
DCF Area Director Margie Gilberti also sees these situations often and knows just how great of challenges families have to take on. But, she promised that DCF "will always be here to support you."
For Berkshire Children and Families President Colleen White Holmes, Tuesday was her first reunification ceremony -- and only the second one in the Berkshires. She reflected on her own family and what that means. She said every day people say goodbye with the full expectation of seeing their family members when they return from work, or practice, or wherever. Each one of those days doesn't merit a celebration.
Jose and Eli Miranda are back together after two years of separation.
"Part of the joy of being family is that we have this luxury of taking each other for granted, of not treating each other as guests," she said.
She reflected on her son who he went to college and didn't return until three months later. And her nephew who was away in the military finally returned. When there is distance and time separating a family, that's when reuniting becomes so much better, she said. She urged families not to forget how sweet those everyday moments are together.
"Today we celebrate the greatness of families coming together," she said.
While Tuesday was a celebration for the families who did get reunified with their children, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier lamented that the children even had to be placed in the state's care, to begin with. She said she wished the state did more on the front end to help children and parents and guardians. She said 87 percent of the state's budget for child welfare goes toward just 13 percent of the families in the state.
"If we could spend more money up front supporting families so that they can overcome those barriers, get the skills they need, being able to have the resources for simple things like summer camp, quality after-school programs, quality transportation, what can we do so that families have quality housing? There are many things we can do to support families. But it seems we wait and we spend all of that money and all of those resources after we divide families," Farley-Bouvier said.
"What we know is that when children are with their own families with support, we have the very best outcomes for those children. That is a fact. We have to do everything we can. Sometimes it is not possible, we have to make some really tough decisions, but when it is at all possible we need to give families the support so they can be together."
The event on Tuesday was held in honor of national reunification month, which is celebrated throughout the country in June. It started in 2010 by the American Bar Association and is intended to honor those families who overcame great challenges to stay together.
The three families celebrated Tuesday were also given a certificate from the state Senate by A.J. Enchill, of state Sen. Adam Hinds office.
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