Kitten Jacob has struggled with drug addiction for most of her adult life. Nine years ago, she abandoned her two young sons for weeks, leaving them alone in their apartment to fend for themselves. When food ran out, five-year-old Danny and one-year-old Raymond made a harrowing journey on public transportation and on foot to reach their great-grandmother's house. The courts declared Kitten an unfit parent and granted custody of the boys to their grandmother, Erslena, who has remained their guardian ever since. Now, at ages 14 and 11, Danny and Raymond are still holding onto the hope that their mother will kick her crack habit, while Kitten worries that her battle with addiction will be a losing one.
Danny, Raymond and their grandmother Erslena
Erslena (left) with her daughter Kitten
Brooklyn's Center for Family Life
Erslena and the boys await the verdict
at Family Court
WHY CAN'T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN? begins in 1997, when child welfare authorities warn Kitten that she has one last chance: complete a drug treatment program or lose her parental rights forever. She enrolls in a residential treatment center in upstate New York and appears to be making progress. But she drops out after only four months, returning to drug use and the streets of Brooklyn. After allowing Danny and Raymond to remain in the limbo of kinship foster care for nearly a decade, the Family Court initiates legal procedures to terminate Kitten's parental rights.
During the past ten years, the brothers have relied on their grandmother for guidance and love. They also have been able to turn to a family support organization, the Center for Family Life. Danny's jobs as a counselor at the Center's after-school and summer camp programs have helped build his confidence and given him the chance to be a role model to younger kids, including his brother. The film shows how the Center has become one of the strongest forces in the boys' lives, keeping them grounded despite the turmoil at home.
Shot over a three-year period, this emotionally wrenching documentary shows how two brothers who were devastated by their mother's addiction and neglect found a way to thriveand redefine what it means to be a family. There is no Hollywood ending to this story and no easy solution. But WHY CAN'T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN? isn't just a cautionary tale of the dangers of drug abuse. It's also a testament to human determination and a portrait of a courageous and embattled family.
WHY CAN'T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN? concludes in February of 2000.
In December 2003, filmmaker Roger Weisberg reported:
Daniel no longer lives at home with his grandmother and Raymond. He lives independently and is working part time as a youth supervisor in an after-school program in Brooklyn. He has taken this year off college, wanting to have the experience of living independently. As a result of the film's high profile, he has been asked to speak to many groups of children about the experience of being in foster care. He is also active as a youth leader in his community, particularly in his role as basketball coach.
Raymond is in the tenth grade and continues to do well at school, both academically and in sports.
Erslena continues to devote her time to raising Raymond and looking after her mother, who is bedridden.
Kitten is currently clean (off crack) and living in a shelter. She visits the family periodically.
In June 2005, Roger Weisberg reported:
Urselna's mother, the boys’ great-grandmother, died recently. Danny is in college and living on his own. Kitten is still using drugs and rarely sees her kids. Raymond is struggling a bit in school and is having a tough time without his brother in the house.