Statewide Family Defense Advocates Lay Out Legislative Agenda for 2022

Mai Tran, The Bronx Defenders:, (718) 508-3514


Statewide Family Defense Advocates Lay Out Legislative Agenda for 2022 

Defenders Call on Albany to Shrink the State’s Foster System, Deepen Support for New York Families, and Increase Funding for Family Defense

(New York, NY) – In a recently issued letter, 21 family defense organizations representing thousands of parents across New York State in Family Court called on Governor Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pass a suite of bills aimed at protecting the rights of parents and caregivers and reducing family regulation and surveillance that disproportionately target low-income Black and brown New Yorkers.

These measures would shrink the pathways to and the harmful impact of the family regulation system, which, from start to finish, serves to surveil and punish, and shift power back to and honor the dignity and autonomy of communities most impacted by the family regulation system.

“For too long, the family regulation system has used social service providers, like health care providers and educators, as its eyes and ears, thus creating a relationship of mistrust and fear among New York’s socially marginalized families toward critical social service providers,” says Miriam Mack, Policy Director to the Family Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “As public defenders, we see how practices like ‘test and report’ in hospitals, anonymous reporting, and family regulation workers keeping parents in the dark about their rights unnecessarily expose families to the harms of family regulation system intervention and potential family separation. We see how families can be subjected to years-long trauma of family court proceedings and deprived of sacred familial bonds. If New York is truly a state that honors all families’ dignity and humanity, the Legislature must pass and Governor Hochul must sign into law these important reforms.” 

“As public defenders who have represented thousands of parents in Brooklyn family court, we have witnessed the traumatic effects of the so-called ‘child welfare system’ on New York’s families,” said Lauren Shapiro, Managing Director of Brooklyn Defender’ Family Defense Practice. “Steeped in the same systemic racism as the criminal legal system, the family regulation system disproportionately targets families of color living in poverty, subjects families to surveillance and separation, causing long-lasting harm that ripples through generations and communities. New York has an opportunity to minimize the harmful impact of this system, by investing in resources that will support New York families and enacting a slate of legislation that will empower parents and keep families together.”

“Research shows the family regulation system does irreparable harm to Black and Latine families and it doesn’t make their communities any safer. New York must invest community-based resources that support, not punish, the state’s most vulnerable families. The six legislative priorities outlined in this letter will protect the rights of those targeted by family regulation, reducing court filings and traumatic family separations, and preserve economic opportunities for parents harmed by the system, while saving the State money,” said Jennifer Feinberg, Litigation Supervisor for Policy & Government Affairs, Center for Family Representation

“As public defenders, and advocates for the underserved communities in Queens County, we see how the “Family Regulation System” can cause irreparable harm to families and the children we all want to protect,” said Kirlyn Joseph, Esq. Queens Defenders, Director of Family Law Practice. “Consistently we see the impact of family separation on children lasting long after the events have taken place.  In some instances, we are seeing these children as clients in the Criminal and Juvenile courts. An inability to deal with or trust the system that emotionally traumatized them has led to a life entrenched in the justice system. These legislative changes will help to put families, and more importantly children, first by preventing the system from criminalizing poverty. Current policies that rely on anonymous tips while ignoring the socio-economic factors around cases of neglect or abuse allow a stranger to ruin the lives of people who are just trying to do their best.”

“It is well past time that New York adopts policies and laws that invest in families and minimize family separation,” said Susan Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association. “The existing family regulatory system has caused and continues to cause a disproportionate number of poor, Black, and brown children to be taken from their parents. Enacting this slate of legislation is a first step towards demonstrating New York’s commitment to advancing equity and fairness and investing in real community-based support for parents and children that are not a part of the family regulatory system.”

“Racism is just as embedded in the family destruction system as it is in policing and our criminal courts. The family destruction system exists to surveil, seize and separate Black and brown families. ACS is part and parcel of this systemic and structural destruction of Black and brown families in Upper Manhattan,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “The constant surveillance and policing has devastated the Northern Manhattan neighborhoods we serve. ACS punishes Black and brown families for being poor instead of providing support and the outcomes speak for themselves: just six percent of children in foster care in New York City are white. We demand Governor Hochul and state legislators act swiftly in eliminating the racialized surveillance of the family destruction system and replacing it with community-based infrastructure that allows Black and brown families to thrive.”

In 2020, New York State’s family regulation system received 134,406 reports and its foster system admitted 6,349 children. In 2021, the New York City Administration for Child Services conducted over 43,000 investigations, 64% of which found no credible evidence of child maltreatment. Less than 40% of cases found credible evidence of child maltreatment, and the vast majority were allegations stemming from poverty, such as not having access to childcare. 

Much like the criminal legal system, the family regulation system has been and continues to be profoundly shaped by structural racism. It operates by surveilling and punishing low-income families and communities of color, particularly Black and brown communities. This system treats poverty as child neglect, unnecessarily separating families and shifting resources to the family regulation system, rather than directly providing support to the families it is meant to serve.

With the state budget negotiations finalizing on March 31 and the legislative session beginning in earnest, advocates urge the Governor and Legislature to invest in New York families by addressing the acute crisis in the representation of parents and family defense, and passing the following critical bills:

The Family Miranda Rights Act Requires Caseworkers Investigating Reports of Child Maltreatment to Notify Parents and Caretakers of Their Rights – S05484A (Brisport) / A06792 (Walker)

The Anti-Harassment in Reporting Act Requires Non-Mandated Callers Making Reports of Suspected Child Maltreatment to Provide Their Name and Contact Information – S07326 (Brisport) / A07879 (Hevesi) 

Prohibit Non-Consensual Drug and Alcohol Testing and Screening of Pregnant and Perinatal People and Newborns – S04821 (Salazar) / A04285 (Rosenthal) 

Allow Post-Termination Contact Between Children and Their Birth Parents or Siblings in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings When in the Best Interest of the Child – S04203 (Savino) / A02199 (Joyner) (previously passed by the Legislature and vetoed by the Governor in 2021)

Ensure Equity in Establishing Parental Rights for All Fathers of Children in the Foster System S06389 (Brisport)/A07347 (Hevesi) 

Give Judges in Article 10 Matters the Discretion to Grant Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACDs) – S07173 (Bailey)

The full letter can be found here.