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    Posted July 9, 2015 by
    New York City, New York

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    UNDER FIRE: New York City's foster care system failures result in class action lawsuit


    After a string of tragic deaths of children in foster care like the brutal murder of 4-year-old Myls Dobson and others, the City of New York said it had undertaken measures to reform its embattled child welfare agency.


    New York City's Administration for Children's Services - widely known as ACS - is under fire for its decision to repeatedly remove children from their parents for domestic violence, messy houses and other unfair offenses without offering the parent preventative services to help keep the child safe at home. In fact, in January 2014, New York City Mayor de Blasio called for 3,200 cases under ACS supervision to be investigated for mistakes and problems. Parents report they are still waiting for the reviews on their cases to begin.


    Some of the steps the agency says its taken include a $6.5 million department staffed by retired police detectives aimed at ensuring child safety, but children continue to die while in ACS' care.


    State and federal laws - and the agency's own policy - requires that ACS seek a court order to remove children unless there is an emergncy and the child is immediate danger of death or extreme physical harm. But, critics of the agency - including its own staffers - have said the agency culture operates on a bruising policy where the slogan "when in doubt, pull them out" is repeatedly mentioned. In addition, ACS receives "incentives" in the form of $5000 or more when a child is removed from a home and placed in foster care making the decision to rip children from their families much easier to do while virtually striping children and their parents  their due process rights.


    According to a survey by Child Welfare Organizing Program (also known as CWOP), 98.6% of judges in family rule in favor of ACS. "Due process for parents in family court is a myth," according to then CWOP director, Michael Arsham. "Parents are guilty until proven innocent." Ironically, Arsham now heads up ACS' client advocacy division. Parents say the advoacay doesn't play fair and uses the informaiton they give them to help them legally but instead blocks their quests for justice and fairness.


    During the July 8, 2015, some reporters put Public Advocate James' decision to extend goodwill to ACS Commissioner Carrión, who many feel was the wrong person to head up the agency, was a sign of disrespect to parents and children in foster care.


    Brian, a reporter at New York Amsterdam News, asked James during the July 8, 2015 press conference a question that many had been wondering: "What took so long to file the lawsuit?"


    New York City's Public Advocate Letitia James - the top attorney for the residents - said that while ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión had "her heart in the right place, children couldn’t wait any longer for reforms." James' word choice and support of Carrión did not go unnoticed by parent advocates and organizations.


    During the 2015 ACS Budget hearing held on May 28, 2014 before the New York City Council, James testified on  that her office had been "overwhelmed" with more than 3,000 parent complaints about New York City's child welfare agency, Administration for Children's Services but hadn't filed a lawsuit, issued a statement or taken any action, an issue that many parents expressed anger about. In fact, only two parents showed up at James' press conference announcing the lawsuit.


    Whatever mistakes James made in the past she seems bent on fixing with the filing of her lawsuit. She came prepared with graphics, press materials, supporters and delivered a nearly flawless speech. Her voice did not waiver. She never seemed unsure if her decision to sue was regretted.


    James said her office was working to identify parents of neglect and ACS inaction and didn't want to rush the lawsuit, which is being headed up by attorney Marshia Lowry.


    ACS told a different story and issued a defiant statement that seemed to make clear that the agency may try to defend the case instead of settle it.


    "[Mayor] de Blasio's administration is deeply invested in improving the lives of vulnerable children, and working very closely with many partners to improve our foster care placement system," said ACS spokesman Christopher McKniff in a statement provided to the media.


    "The City has made great strides in reducing the number of children in foster care from a high of 45,000 in the 1990s, to just over 11,000 currently, and in the last 18 months ACS has taken significant steps in preventive work designed to keep families together and avoid placing children in foster care in the first place," the agency said McKniff.


    Not true say parents whose children are in foster care under ACS.


    One parent, whose child - Josee - is in fostercare but placed 1,000 miles away after the agency said the house was messy, said the agency never offered preventative services to keep the child at home. Josee's story has caught the attention of celebrities, concerned citizens across the country and even a doctor in the state where the child is placed. A social media campaign is underway with people holding #BringJoseeHome signs, making videos that say, "Mayor de Blasio, bring Josee home" and writing letters to the White House Office of Public Engagement seeking an injunction in the horrifying case.


    "I asked the case worker, Sefora Wilson King, for preventative services. I'd just won a housing lottery and asked her to help me finalize the process for the apartment. She flat out said "no." She even testified in May 2013 that I asked her for services to keep my child safe at home but she said, "The agency doesn't have housing services. All we can offer you is to go to P.A.T.H, where homeless families go," said Josee's mother. She says she took issue with the refusal to provide support and/or the recommendation because she and her child were not homeless and the mother was aware that ACS has a large housing department on the 8th floor of their headquarters. "It was like she just refused to help me, like she wanted me to fail. She went out of her way to create barriers for my child to come home instead of working with me to remove them," said the mother.


    According to court transcripts, Judge Steven Weinstein said that ACS had "not proven its case and even if it had it did not amount to imminent risk," meaning the child was not in danger and would not have been allowed to be removed. Despite throwing out all of the allegations for which the agency submitted proof, Judge Weinstein issued a finding of neglect saying although no evidence was submitted, hearsay is allowed in family court. Even with his finding, Judge Weinstein wrote in his order the relationship "is loving." He also said he saw no reason to "impose supervision on the visits. I want the child and mother to see each other as much and as often as possible."


    But ACS is not budging saying the agency feels its doing a good job.


    "We are committed to working with our partners throughout the system—the courts, attorneys, advocates, providers, parents and children to ensure we continue to improve outcomes for families who are involved in the child welfare system."


    James' efforts caused a viral reaction with outlets including Miami Herald. Yahoo! News, among others reporting on the press conference. The media outlets also ran a now viral photo of Josee's mother holding a sign that read "Black Kids Matter" because White children only make up 4% of children in foster care. With so many Black children forced into foster care seems baced up by WNYC which issued a scathing report that Black moms are four times as likely to have their children removed.



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