“I’ve never seen a system that didn’t badly need reform,” says Marcia Robinson Lowry. And as a lawyer working for more than four decades in the trenches of our nation’s child welfare system, she speaks from experience. Her work has used the power of the courts to demand accountability from negligent state actors, and to create—and enforce—laws producing the best possible outcomes for children vulnerable to suffering and abuse.
Lowry’s secret: aim big. “Dealing with individuals isn’t enough,” she says. “You have to fight the whole system.” She began her crusade as a leader of the Children’s Rights Project at the ACLU before founding Children’s Rights, an organization that demands better conditions for juveniles under state care. And in 2014 she founded A Better Childhood, focusing her outrage on the biggest targets yet, and running top-down, state-wide reform campaigns in eight states.
Although Lowry has never sought recognition, any attempt to quantify her accomplishments is staggering. Her advocacy has saved or improved hundreds of thousands of young lives. She has helped define and implement a set of constitutional rights for children essentially abandoned by the state. And she’s far from finished. “I’m as angry as ever,” she says. “And there’s still so much more to do.”