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On Wednesday, September 25, Progressive Caucus held a presser with Brooklyn Defender Services, and other advocates to highlight bills and resolutions introduced by the Progressive Caucus members around accountability, transparency, increased representation and legal counsel, and rights within the child welfare system. The bills were introduced by Progressive Caucus Members, including General Welfare Chair Stephen Levin, Progressive Caucus Chair Diana Ayala, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Members Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Debi Rose, Margaret Chin, Carlina Rivera, and Helen Rosenthal. 

The package was developed by the Caucus with the understanding that child custody and child separation in the ACS system is a social, racial and economic justice issue.The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has the important role of protecting and promoting safety and well-being of New York City’s children from abuse and neglect. However, an open or past ACS case can lead to a suspension or terminate custody of children and parental rights, and a police record and/or a record in the State Central Registry (SCR), which can lead to collateral consequences for employment, and entanglement in the criminal justice or immigration system(s). Thus, Progressive Caucus members introduced the bills and resolutions acknowledging that New Yorkers, and especially low income black women and women of color who are disproportionately affected by this system, must have basic protections and representation when dealing with the ACS system.

The list of proposed laws and resolutions introduced by the Progressive Caucus are as follows: 

  1. Council Member Adams: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the provision of counsel at fair hearings following an indicated report during an ACS investigation (a legal right to counsel for Statewide Central Registry).
  2. Council Member Adams: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to reporting demographic information (race, ethnicity, household income) for emergency removals by the administration for children’s services.
  3. Council Members Ampry-Samuel and Levin: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to information regarding demographic information (race, ethnicity, household income) of parents and children at each step in the child welfare system and a plan to address racial and income disparities.
  4. Council Members Ayala and Levin: Resolution Calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign legislation to automatically expunge the records of individuals whose child abuse or neglect case was dismissed in family court from the Statewide Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.
  5. Council Members Chin and Levin: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the administration for children’s services to provide a multilingual disclosure form to parents or guardians during a child protective investigation.
  6. Council Members Chin and Levin: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to reporting on youth in foster care
  7. Council Member Levin: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to emergency removals conducted by the administration for children’s services, as opposed to by a judge.
  8. Council Members Levin, Ayala and Ampry-Samuel: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the provision of counsel at the first point of contact during an ACS investigation.
  9. Council Members Levin and Rose: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring ACS to provide information to parents or caretakers about their right to appeal to expunge a case record during an ACS investigation.
  10. Council Member Rivera: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring child protective specialists to orally disseminate information to parents or caretakers about their rights during initial contact at the start of an ACS investigation.
  11. Council Members Rose and Levin: Resolution urging New York State to reduce the length of time caretakers, parents or legal guardians remain on the Statewide Central Registry list.
  12. Majority Leader Cumbo: Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to develop a parents’ bill of rights to be distributed at initial home visits in child protective investigations and made available online. (Formerly introduced.)
  13. Council Member Reynoso: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to reporting on investigations initiated by the administration for children’s services resulting from drug screenings performed at facilities managed by the New York city health and hospitals corporation. (Formerly introduced and heard.)
  14. Council Member Richards: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to enhanced reporting on the child welfare system. (Formerly introduced and heard.)
  15. Public Advocate Williams and Council Member Rosenthal: Resolution calling for the passage of the Separation of Children accountability & Response Act

“We have work to do in making our city’s child welfare system fairer and more just. Too many reports are filed with the State Central Registry on families of color and in low-income neighborhoods. Reports show that the large majority of reports that ACS receives and required to investigate through the SCR are for neglect – issues that are directly related to poverty. As General Welfare Chair, I am committed to improving every step of the process for families to know their rights, appeal a case, and access the resources they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Families belong together; I am proud to join my colleagues in advancing a comprehensive package to achieve concrete reforms,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Member of the Progressive Caucus. 

“As Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, I am proud to join my colleagues in advancing this legislative package to push for much-needed reform within our child welfare system. Unfortunately, many individuals with dismissed family court cases remain on the Statewide Central Registry, which prevents them from seeking job opportunities in education, healthcare, and social services. This register is predominantly comprised of people of color, who are already disproportionately impacted by the child welfare system. I am proud to introduce a resolution calling on the State to automatically expunge the records of individuals with dismissed cases in order to grant them a slice of relief from this system,” said Council Member Diana Ayala, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. 

“In an effort to address many of the long-standing issues in the ACS system, I am proud to join my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus in introducing this important legislation that will not only increase accountability but would support the rights of parents affected by the ACS system,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, Member of the Progressive Caucus. .  “My bills seek to provide an increase parental support by providing access to counsel during the fair hearing process and improving transparency by mandating demographic reporting for emergency removals. Immigrants, low-income New Yorkers and people of color across our city are disproportionately affected by the ACS system and this package will be a step in the right direction.”

“In order to fulfill its mission to protect vulnerable children and reunify families, the Administration for Children’s Services must be an active partner in educating and outreaching to immigrant families and providing the necessary resources to move forward. But oftentimes, these families are left in the dark,”  said Council Member Margaret S. Chin, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “Sadly, many interactions between immigrant parents and ACS are marked by cultural or linguistic misunderstandings that can lead to unwarranted separations. What’s more, it can take days before a child in ACS custody can get in contact with their families. By requiring that ACS provide multilingual disclosure forms and mandating reports on the length of time it takes to get families in contact with their children, my bills focus on maximizing transparency and trust, and minimizing trauma. I am proud to join my colleagues on the Progressive Caucus members to put forward legislation to increase accountability and access in the child welfare system.”

“In too many cases, parents find themselves on the Statewide Central Registry list for ‘neglect’ that may actually be a symptom of poverty, such as failure to supply needed clothing or inability to support a child’s educational needs. The SCR list is then used as a screening tool by employers, which can prevent a parent from securing gainful employment and it can take decades to be removed from the list, even after completing necessary courses and requirements. I have introduced a resolution calling on the State to reduce the amount of time parents are kept on this list so that it does not become a lifelong barrier to employment. I also join my colleagues in supporting a broad package of legislation aimed at ensuring greater accountability in the Administration for Children’s Services and greater protection for parental rights,” said Council Member Debi Rose, Member of the Progressive Caucus. 

“A fairer City means mandating humaneness and equity into bureaucracies like our child welfare system. ACS sends far too many children, mostly from families of color, into a cycle of poverty and vulnerability that can leave them trapped, often because their parents weren’t aware of their rights in these cases. I’m proud to join my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus in introducing this legislative package that will bring basic protections and representation to countless families. The culture of ACS should have changed long ago, but I’m glad we are finally taking these steps,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera, Member of the Progressive Caucus. 

“I am proud to join my Progressive Caucus colleagues in pushing forward this package which seeks to address the long-standing need for greater parental rights and transparency throughout the child welfare system. My resolution calls upon the State legislature to pass the “Separation of Children Accountability Act,” responding to the fact that thousands of children have been separated from their families in the process of seeking asylum in the United States. This humanitarian disgrace is a stain on our nation’s history. In order to help families find their children, SCAR would require State agencies and contractors to report about unaccompanied children in their care every 15 days – a common sense and absolutely necessary step,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Women & Gender Equity, Member of the Progressive Caucus. 

“The NYC Council Progressive Caucus’ legislation affirms what we have learned from defending Brooklyn parents for the last twelve years: New York City’s child welfare system disproportionately targets low-income black women and families of color, largely for poverty-related issues and lack of resources,” said Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Supervising Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice. “This legislation emphasizes the importance of empowering parents to assert their rights and gain access to counsel early in an investigation, which can prevent unnecessary government interference or even family separation. We thank the Progressive Caucus for protecting and prioritizing parental rights and for taking critical steps toward improving accountability and transparency at ACS.”

“We applaud the Progressive Caucus’s package of bills aimed towards strengthening all parents’ ability to defend their rights in the family court system. These bills and resolutions will provide funding for critical access to legal services during investigations and administrative hearings. As practitioners, we know how critical representation can be for families, whether during an ACS investigation or during an SCR hearing, and that it is often the best defense against the lasting harm that comes from family separation and unfair economic consequences.  Justice for children and families requires meaningful access to legal services from the outset of child welfare involvement. Furthermore, justice requires that everyone, regardless of whether they speak English or not, know their rights and participate fully in their own defense. This means the Courts and ACS should accommodate for the language requirements of all families involved with the child welfare system,” said Emma Ketteringham, Managing Director, The Bronx Defenders, Family Defense Practice.

 

“Planned Parenthood of New York City applauds the Progressive Caucus for taking the necessary steps to protect children and their parents from the harmful, long-term consequences following family separation. While the Trump administration is tearing undocumented families apart, here in New York City, child protective services must do everything it can to mend families and encourage them to thrive. The Administration for Children’s Services role is to ensure that children are living full, healthy lives – that must include helping their parents regain custody and heal after difficult and uncertain times. We thank the Progressive Caucus and the bill sponsors for raising these issues.” Laura McQuade, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of New York City

“This package of bills would be a massive step forward for the northern Manhattan families we serve. ACS criminalizes poverty and disproportionately targets poor families of color. The proposed legislation would dramatically expand protections for vulnerable communities,” said Michelle Burrell, Managing Attorney at Neighborhood Defender Service’s Family Defense Practice. “We know from decades of experience that early access to public defense during an interaction with ACS has the power to keep families together, keep children safe and let communities thrive. This package would provide more families with exactly that, while also affirming parents’ rights. We applaud the Progressive Caucus’ efforts to bring this package forward on behalf of families and communities throughout New York City.”  

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