We defend the Bronx.

Family Defense Practice

The Issue

The most accurate predictor of foster care and child welfare involvement is not the maltreatment of children — it is poverty. We see this reality in the Bronx, where parents are particularly vulnerable to being targeted for investigations by child welfare agencies or losing custody of their children. A startling 30% of children in foster care in New York City come from the Bronx, and a vast majority of removals of children in the Bronx occur before any court reviews the decision.

The vast majority of parents we represent are charged because of  issues related to poverty, social isolation, unstable housing, mental illness or addiction. Despite numerous studies showing that children experience better health and psychological outcomes by staying with their parents than being placed into foster care, many families in the Bronx are at risk of losing their children to foster care and forced into family court in order to keep their children at home. The removals of children from their parents threaten to destabilize the lives of families and communities for generations.

Our Approach

The Bronx Defenders is the first institutional provider in the Bronx established to keep families together and to represent and defend parents fighting against the painful and unnecessary removal of their children. Over the last 15 years, we have grown to represent parents in 85% of the child welfare investigation cases in the Bronx Family Court system.

Our team — comprised of attorneys, social workers, and parent advocates — provides the strong legal defense and support necessary to interrupt a cycle of family court involvement. We are the only family defense organization in New York City that provides advocacy for families during the child protection investigation before a legal case is filed, often making court intervention unnecessary. In fact, between 2015 and 2017, 68% of the cases where we represented the parent during the child welfare investigation did not result in a legal filing. In addition to defending against the charges of neglect and abuse in Court with comprehensive motions practice and high quality litigation, we fight to keep families together by providing advocates for parents at meetings and conferences with ACS, connecting families to proven prevention services, and empowering parents to advocate for themselves and their families.

Accomplishments and Initiatives

  • Our Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program advocates for some of our most vulnerable clients in Family Court — pregnant women who already have children in foster care. In 2015, 65% of babies born to women involved in child-protective services in New York City entered foster care at birth. As a result of our advocacy and connection to parent identified services and support, only 30% of babies born to women involved in child-protective services in the Bronx entered foster care at birth.
  • We host a clinic for students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law interested in learning how to defend families against unreasonable and unnecessary state disruption.
  • Our attorneys have successfully litigated on behalf of our clients in the First Department, establishing important legal precedent for all cases pending in Family Court.