Marcia Robinson Lowry, Founder and Executive Director of Children's Rights by LawCrossing

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                                  Marcia Robinson Lowry, Founder and Executive
                                  Director of Children’s Rights
                                  [by Regan Morris]
                                  Attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry started Children’s Rights a decade ago to represent children and advocate on
                                  their behalf in the courts. LawCrossing speaks with her about her career and the organization she founded.




Even after 30 years of experience in              anybody could have been in that house and        “I thought that children’s issues would be the
children’s rights, Lowry is consistently          seen those four boys, who were so stunted in     most interesting and the one [area] where I
outraged by how government systems fail           their growth, and not immediately report it to   could make the most difference in people’s
children. That outrage and indignation were       the abuse hotline. I can’t give you an answer    lives,” she said. “I didn’t start out with that
what inspired her to start Children’s Rights      to that. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”       particular goal, but once I started working on
and drives her to work to make the system                                                          it, it just seemed to me [to be] the area where
better for kids in the future.                    Children’s Rights now employs 0 attorneys       there was the greatest opportunity to have a
                                                  and a staff of 3 and uses its expertise to      positive impact on people’s lives.”
Lowry was working for the American Civil          change child welfare bureaucracies. They
Liberties Union in New York when she decided      scrutinize failing systems and provide           After that fellowship, Lowry spent a year
the most vulnerable members of society            solutions to systemic problems. If a system      with the New York City Child Welfare
needed an organization of their own. About 0     fails to respond, Children’s Rights uses         agency before joining the New York Civil
years ago, she started Children’s Rights, a New   litigation to force reform and monitor its       Liberties Union to start a litigation program
York-based national advocacy organization for     implementation.                                  for children, which has proved invaluable
abused and neglected children.                                                                     because Lowry’s job involves understanding
                                                  Lowry said she has always been interested        and identifying problems within child welfare
Children’s Rights generally brings class-         in civil rights and public interest law, but     bureaucracies.
action suits against state governments,           did not initially intend to focus her career
although recently, Lowry personally               on children. She spent four years working        Accountability is the single biggest problem
represented three of the four teenage             as a journalist before going to law school.      in child welfare across the country, Lowry
boys found starving in their New Jersey           Growing up in Florida, in the segregated         says. Most states have good laws to protect
home, where their adoptive parents were           South, she said, fueled her interest in civil    and serve children. The problem is no one
supposedly being monitored by case workers.       rights. A liberal aunt in New York who was a     pays attention to the laws, she said.
                                                  lawyer piqued her interest in the law.
The oldest of those boys was 9 and weighed                                                        She said voters should hold governors more
less than 50 pounds and was found digging         “I felt that I couldn’t accomplish enough as     accountable for child welfare systems and
through a neighbor’s trash for food. His three    a journalist. I wanted to be more actively       that a failed system is a reflection of a failing
younger brothers weighed even less. Lowry,        involved in resolving social problems,”          governor.
who became guardian ad litem for the three        she said. “As a journalist, all you can do is
younger boys, said she will never understand      document and point out issues—and you            “Ultimately, in any state system, it’s the
how the government social workers, who            have to be neutral—and I decided I wanted to     governor who is responsible for having the
were present in the house, did not report         be more actively involved in identifying the     state agencies perform properly. And it’s just
the abuse. The four boys had been adopted,        problems, not just solving them.”                not a priority, because the voters don’t know
but caseworkers were present because the                                                           about it; and if they knew about it, it wouldn’t
family was in the process of adopting one of      After earning her J.D. from the New York         be affecting them,” she said. “And these are
the other foster children living in the house.    University School of Law, Lowry won a public     kids who don’t vote, and often their parents
                                                  interest fellowship and worked for the legal     have been unable to care for them and have
“How can something like that happen? Beats        services program in New York. It was then        their own problems. So nobody who elects
me,” she said. “I represent three of those        that she chose to specialize in children’s       officials pays attention to these kids. That’s
kids, and I couldn’t to this day tell you how     rights.                                          why we have to go to court.”


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Children’s Rights has cases in numerous          Lowry said she couldn’t imagine swapping        are with the use of the law, the better we can
states across the country in various stages.     her public interest career for a dazzling       serve the people who are less fortunate than
As executive director, Lowry supervises the      private-firm salary. Too many lawyers don’t     we are. And there is an enormous amount of
legal department and the policy side. She        realize that it’s perfectly easy to live on a   pro bono work that can and should be done.”
is also directly involved in cases in Georgia;   public interest salary, she said.
Washington, DC; Tennessee; and Nebraska.
Lowry said attorneys interested in doing         “We work with local firms whenever we
pro bono work with Children’s Rights must        can. It’s taken on as a case by the firm, and
be willing to dedicate long hours to the         as I said, it’s really a major commitment of
cases. There are opportunities with other        time and resources,” she said. “Courts are
organizations if attorneys can only dedicate a   enormously powerful devices to affect social
few hours per month, she said.                   problems. And I think the more creative we




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