BBC mini-documentary reveals life of those poor and pregnant in the Bronx
Posted June 27, 2016
In a six-part mini-documentary called “9 Months in the Bronx” released June 16, the BBC explores the difficulties poor and minority women face when it comes to giving birth while on welfare.
Reporter Anna Bressanin follows Felicia, a 22-year-old woman living in the Bronx, as she navigates through the process of keeping her child in her custody once he’s born.
Felicia has two other children, but they were placed with a relative by the New York Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) after the shelter she was staying at saw her and the children's father fighting.
“I don’t want this one to be taken away,” Felicia said. “I’m doing everything possible so I can keep it in my care.”
The series includes intimate looks at Felicia’s home life and how she prepares to defend her abilities as a parent. Throughout the nine months, Felicia faces numerous obstacles to keeping her child. Among them, her lawyers point out that while she could win approval from the ACS, her boyfriend — the children’s father — and his criminal record could be detrimental.
“It’s pretty intense when you think about it, a woman gets pregnant and she has to meet with her attorney to plan,” said Erin Miles, Felicia’s lawyer. “I don’t think that happens with most women that are middle-class or upper-middle class. … It very often happens with poor women of color living in the south Bronx.”
ACS declined to be interviewed by the BBC, but Alexandria Lipton, a former lawyer for the organization, said it's "nearly impossible" for ACS to come in and handle all the children under investigation. In 2014, there were 26,000.
"As ACS, you're not just coming in and trying to fix a problem," Lipton said. "You're dealing with all this chaos around the family, the community they're in, the lack of social support."
The purpose of the ACS, as listed on its website, is to "promote the safety and well-being of New York City’s children and families by providing child welfare, juvenile justice, and early care and education services." In the documentary, Felicia's lawyers say the organization often targets single, low-income mothers of color.
But research shows most children born to never-married mothers struggle regardless of income. A study done by the Brookings Institute reported that "a child born to a never-married mother in the bottom fifth of family income is three times more likely to stay in the bottom fifth than a child born to a continuously married mother with equally low income."
Additionally, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics said in a 2015 report: "Children of unmarried mothers are at higher risk of adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight and infant mortality," and that they "are also more likely to live in poverty than are children of married mothers."
In the documentary, Felicia and the other women she meets with who face ACS intervention also discuss the series of drug tests their newborns have been subjected to moments after birth.
During one of her prenatal appointments, Felicia tests positive for marijuana during her pregnancy, and choses to attend a six-month drug course to increase her chances of keeping her child in her custody.
Mili Kakani, a public defense lawyer, said the classes are generally intended for mothers addicted to heroin, cocaine and other narcotics, but mothers in the Bronx are often required to attend them for using marijuana prior to or during a pregnancy.
“I think it’s just a mindset that if you’re poor, you have to engage in certain services to be a better parent because you don’t know how to love your children, which is so far from the truth,” Kakani said.
Throughout the series, Felicia must make a series of other decisions regarding her lifestyle and relationships as she fights for custody of her children. All six parts of "9 Months in the Bronx" are available of the BBC's website.
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