Q&A with Amanda Beard, ABA Reunification Hero
Amanda is an assistant attorney general at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and represents the Department of Social and Health Services in dependency and termination of parental rights cases. Though new to the legal profession, she has gained the admiration of many colleagues — including her opposing counsel, who says that Amanda has demonstrated compassion, encouragement, and hopefulness in the performance of her duties.
In a recent ABA interview, excerpted here, Amanda shared some experiences from her work in child welfare. Read the full interview.
What made you interested in child welfare?
Well, in law school I wanted to be a legal librarian. I didn’t think that I wanted to be a practicing attorney. After law school, I was clerking for a judge who presided over child welfare cases, and I became inspired by the work I saw the people in the field doing. I applied to the Washington State Attorney General’s office and now cannot imagine doing any other kind of work.
What was one experience that had a big impact on the way you think about reunification?
One day, after a court hearing in which the court ordered that a child be removed from a mother’s care, I witnessed the family’s goodbyes. To watch a mother say goodbye to her child was a heart-wrenching experience, regardless of the circumstances of why it had to happen. It is a reality of this work that sometimes it is in a child’s best interest to be removed from his or her family for health and safety reasons. That being said, that experience solidified for me that my job is to strive to get those parents in a position so hopefully it becomes in the child’s best interest to be back in his or her parents’ care.
What programs/practices are most effective in helping parents reunify?
Washington has a group called Snohomish County Parent Advocacy Committee, which runs a program called Life During CPS. It is a great support system for parents and provides them with someone who can give them hope of reunification. I think this program is effective for parents because it serves as a mechanism through which they can navigate the system and not feel alone. This program embraces the idea of a community coming together to help these families, both while the family is part of the child welfare system and also once the family has left the child welfare system. The program recognizes that the issues that bring a family into the system are often lifetime needs that require continual support and attention.
Tell us about your efforts to improve child welfare practice in your area.
With every family’s case that comes across my desk, I try to approach it with a fresh perspective. Regardless of where the case is in the process, I think it is never too late to try to problem-solve. The ultimate goal is child welfare and safety. The primary mission of my position is to advance the best interest of the child. This interest sometimes, but not always, coincides with reunifying a family. In the cases where those interests align, I do everything in my power to set parents up for success so the goal is met and families reunify, if possible.
I think it takes all interested parties to address the specific needs of each unique family and to really be creative about getting those families where they need to be. I try to always ask, “How we can do things better for each case? What is missing here? Why is this not working?” I feel privileged in doing this work, and based on that, I feel personally responsible to explore every avenue to protect the best interest of a child while also hopefully making a parent capable of parenting.
Do you think there are any public misconceptions about the child welfare system?
It is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, whether it is the children, parents, extended family, or even family friends. I am often referred to as a prosecutor because families perceive my role as one who acts in a way that is detrimental to the family. That is not what I am here for. My first purpose is to keep kids safe and advocate for their best interest. My second and related purpose is to help parents hopefully get where they need to be to successfully parent.
We serve families. Nothing makes me happier than a child being returned to a successful and stable parent and knowing that I helped make that happen.
© 2015, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. Adapted with permission from the ABA Center on Children and the Law. Original interview appeared on the ABA Center on Children and the Law’s National Reunification Month Web page.