FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

Reflections A Conversation with Carolyn Tancemore Jey Rajaraman

Several years ago, I received a call from a public defender representing a father in an abuse and neglect matter in Essex County. She said, “We need you to jump in and rep grandma.” Representing kin alongside a parent was always an advocacy opportunity I eagerly took on. These opportunities enabled me to support family preservation in cases where parents had not directly sought my services. Ever present in my advocacy work was how to encourage the judiciary to see families as a singular unit and not to pit individual family members against parents facing family separation. I did my research, met with paternal grandmother (Mrs. Carolyn Tancemore) and her son. This meeting enabled me to hear about their family and how their grandson/son had been taken because they did not live under “perfect” condition . I couldn’t take on their case fast enough. I had the honor to advocate for this family alongside, not against, Josiah’s attorney and his father’s public defender. After dozens of motions and a hearing, we were able to clear the administrative obstacles preventing Josiah from being placed in his grandmother’s care. As family defenders, we face what often feel like an insurmountable challenges, barriers, and obstacles to preserve or reunite a family. We are told that our clients are not safe. We are told they are incapable to parent, often due to poverty and mental and cognitive disabilities. This continued narrative is unacceptable. I am happy and honored to share Ms. Tancemore’s story told in her own words. Her story, like so many others, illustrates the system’s flawed vision of “best interest.” A perspective that does not take into consideration that a child’s best interest is inexorably intertwined with the well-being of the family. A perspective that perpetuates an adoption system at the expense of family preservation. Can you tell me about how you grew up?

I also gave her the name that I wanted my grandson to have, Josiah. How did Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) get involved? After Josiah was born, my son and I went to the hospital to pick them up. To our surprise, after waiting for hours, we were told that DCPP came and took him away. We were devasted. I had no idea that my daughter-in-law was being watched by DCPP because of her history and drug issues. No one talked to me or my son. We were in shock. My son has never hurt anyone. He does not have a drug or criminal history. DCPP took Josiah without talking to my son. They said that he had a low IQ and would likely let his wife parent—since they

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and migrated to the United States at an early age with my son Joel. I was a single mother while raising my son. Even though I was a single mother, I made sure Joel had everything in life. I worked hard and made sure he went to school and was happy. He never would hurt anyone and loved playing sports growing up. I have been so proud of Joel and the person he has become. Can you tell me about your grandson Josiah? My son got married and had a baby with his wife. During my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, I surprised them with a baby shower brunch.

Carolyn Tancemore and Josiah

76 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 77

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