According to a new report, many poor parents in New York City are being punished by the Administration for Children's Services, which is placing their children in foster homes based upon little evidence of neglect.
The New York Times obtained data that shows Children's Services' requests to family courts to remove children from their families increased by 40 percent during the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same time period in 2016.
Dozens of lawyers who work on these cases told the newspaper that poor black and Hispanic mothers are being punished under a system that they informally call "Jane Crow."
Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services, highlighted how wealthy and poor parents are treated differently:
It takes a lot as a public defender to be shocked, but these are the kinds of cases you hear attorneys screaming about in the hall. There's this judgment that these mothers don't have the ability to make decisions about their kids, and in that, society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards. In another community, your kid's found outside looking for you because you're in the bathtub, it’s "Oh, my God." In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.
According to lawyers, there is often an increase in low-income kids being removed from their homes after failures by Children's Services make headline news. The agency employees resign, while parents, who had nothing to do with that failure, lose their kids to foster care.
David Hansell, the new commissioner for Children's Services, is promising to reform the agency, which is also being overseen by a new independent monitor. In other words, the people in charge of watching out for the welfare of children are now being watched themselves.
Hansell defended the agency to the newspaper: "With increasing frequency over the past six months or so, the outcome of our involvement with family court has not been removal of children but court-ordered supervision, under which families are required to participate in services to address the risks that we've identified."
Children’s Services refused to comment on specific cases in which kids are taken away from their families.
Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, notes that 25,000 children nationwide were taken away from their families and placed in foster care for 30 days or less.
"We’ve inflicted the most devastating remedy we have on these families, then we’re basically saying, within a month, 'Sorry, our mistake,'" Sankaran told The New York Times. "And these families are left to deal with the consequences."
"[A short-term removal] poses a pretty big threat to [a child's] development," Kristin Bernard, an assistant professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, added.
Dozens of housing lawyers and public defenders say that New York City landlords are keenly aware of how broken the system is, and will threaten to call Children's Services to get lower-paying tenants to move out of their apartments.
The landlords are not the only ones who benefit from Children's Services -- foster care agencies make millions of dollars when children are taken away from their parents.
According to a study by public advocate Letitia James, Children's Services pays more than more than $774 million in taxpayer dollars to 86 private agencies, noted the New York Post in 2016.
James, who filed a lawsuit against Children's Services for allowing kids to be in foster care for too long, said: "We need to examine and seek more accountability for these contract agencies. The reason they exist is to keep children in their care -- they get paid by the city to do so."