ACS expands program to inform parents of rights amidst child welfare investigations
Reports have exposed concerning racial biases entrenched within New York City's child welfare system, predominantly impacting Black families. Recognizing these systemic issues, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) launched a pilot program aimed at apprising parents of their rights, with plans for a citywide initiative in the near future.
"It really got the conversation off to a more productive start," said Jess Dannhauser, commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children’s services, speaking of the notifications given to parents.
Since 2023, ACS has been focused on enhancing parents' awareness of their rights during initial investigations, utilizing notifications distributed during home visits.
"It shares with them their rights that are most relevant in that moment. That we need permission to come into their home, that they can call an attorney at any time during the investigation, and that we have services and resources for them," said Dannhauser.
The pilot program, implemented in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, distributed over 400 notifications, marking a successful step in the ACS's broader racial equity strategy.
"It is seven times more likely that a Black family gets called into the state central registry than a white child's family in New York City,” said Dannhauser.
The department says they only want to bring families to court when absolutely necessary.
“We’ve reduced the number of filing in court by 57% since 2017 in addition we’re using a differential response more often - a service response rather than an investigatory response and over 20% of our responses are now in that program that we call cares,” said Dannhauser.
Miriam Mack, policy director of Family Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders, expressed concerns about the notifications, stating, "It's missing key and crucial details that parents should know."
“This says two important things, one it’s ACS acknowledging that parents have rights and that it is important to communicate with parents what their rights are and secondly it contradicts the narrative that ACS has been pushing for a long time that telling parents their rights will undermine child safety - this pilot shows the opposite,” Mack continued.
But she says while some applaud the notifications, it doesn't go far enough. She advocates for the family Miranda Act to be passed in the Senate.
"The Family Miranda Rights Bill requires that as soon as ACS knocks on the door, the first thing to come out of their mouth is what the parents' rights are, not after a conversation is started," Mack stated. “I want parents to know they can access legal resources if facing an ACS case. For families that live in the Bronx, they can call The Bronx Defenders' Early Defense Hotline, 347-778-1266 or they can email, email@example.com. For families that live outside of the Bronx, they can find early defense services by visiting this website.”
Dannhauser disagrees with the Miranda language advocates are pushing for, emphasizing that only 7% of families require court intervention. He said, "In that moment, it is more than 90% likely that we are not going to use information in the court of law, so we want to make sure that we are sharing information at the most relevant point."
“It is absolutely our job to make sure that we keep children safe but we can do that in a way that’s respectful to parents and that what this new program is about,” Dannhauser said.
The ACS program will become a citywide effort by July.