New York State Bar Association finds child welfare system filled with systemic racism and pushes for reform

New York State Bar Association finds child welfare system filled with systemic racism and pushes for reform

4.2.2022

By Jennifer Andrus

The child welfare system is plagued by racism, with children and families receiving vastly different treatment depending on the color of their skin, the New York State Bar Association has found in a new report that describes the reforms needed to prevent the breakdown of black families.

The report, “Racial Justice and Child Protection,” was approved by the association’s governing body, its House of Delegates, on Saturday. He recommends providing more help with jobs, housing, food and legal services to keep families living in poverty together.

“This report details the travesty of unfair and unfair treatment of black children and parents in our child welfare system,” said NYSBA President T. Andrew Brown. “We need to look carefully at a system that is inherently stacked against color families. Enacting the reforms outlined in this report will help these families stay together, bringing us closer to the equity we seek for children and their parents.

There has been a dramatic increase in reports of neglect due to poverty, according to the report, and parents who are separated from their children need economic support, not punitive removal from the child. Moreover, cases of neglect are more often linked to challenges born of a lack of funds, such as food insecurity or unsanitary and unreliable housing, than to child abuse. Parents have been accused of intentionally harming their children in only a quarter of child protection cases in the United States.

In reaching its findings, the NYSBA’s Committee on Families and the Law reviewed a 2020 independent analysis of New York’s justice system commissioned by Chief Justice Janet DiFiore. The independent review found that racism pervaded the justice system, particularly the family court.

The NYSBA report found that in New York and statewide, black children are more likely than their Latino and white counterparts to be reported to the child abuse hotline. Black and Latino children make up 61% of New York City’s population, but constitute 87.8% of children under protective investigation. When it comes to foster care, black children in upstate New York make up 10% of the population, but 33% of the upstate youth population in foster care .

By the time they turn 18, more than half of black children in the United States have had at least one investigation by child protective services, compared to 28% of white children, the committee said in its report, citing data from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Black children make up only 14% of the US population but make up 24% of the foster population.

Susan Lindenauer, co-chair of the Committee on Families and the Law, said the committee’s goal is to find ways to keep black families together.

“Our effort is to reduce the impact on the well-being of children so that the black family unit can be preserved and not broken,” she said. “Poverty should not and cannot be the premise of the punitive removal of a child. You punish children for the poverty of their parents. We are at a pivotal moment to be a force to change a racist system.

“New York State is failing in its obligation if it does not keep the family together and help them find suitable housing,” said Linda Gehron, the other co-chair of the committee. “It’s that simple.”

Fixing the child welfare system will require aggressive and comprehensive action at the state and federal levels, the report concludes. It also recommends repealing or amending the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to give children and parents the right to counsel and avoid equating poverty with child abuse. children.

The New York State Bar Association recommends that New York:

  • Increase economic support for families and reduce the threat of family separation in child protection cases
  • Appoint more family court judges
  • Increase the salary of court-appointed lawyers in family law cases
  • Require protective services staff to inform parents and children of their rights to remain silent, speak to an attorney, and refuse entry to their homes
  • Eliminate anonymous reports of child abuse while maintaining confidentiality
  • Allow judicial discretion to determine contact with biological parents after termination of rights, if it is in the best interests of the child
  • Allowing greater access to foster care by modifying criminal record checks for families

The full report is available here.

About the New York State Bar Association

The New York State Bar Association is the nation’s largest voluntary state attorney association. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of the law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and defended the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

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