(Albany, NY) – Parents, young people, advocates, attorneys, and legislators rallied in Albany to demand passage of four critical bills that aim to shrink the pathways through which families are funneled into the family regulation system (also known as the so-called “child welfare system”) and ensure that families currently navigating this system are treated with dignity and respect.
Advocates are calling for the passage of four state bills:
“Black families are targeted with malicious reports in our communities, non-consensual drug tests in our hospitals, and traumatizing investigations in our homes. Then, in court, we are coerced into severing our relationships with our children. The bills we are advocating for today would reduce the harms taking place in all of these spaces: our communities, homes, hospitals, and courts,” said Joyce McMillan, Impacted Parent & Executive Director of JMACforFamilies. “The harm caused by ripping apart generations of Black families can not be undone, but New York can begin to do right by our families by passing and enacting these four essential bills.”
“As a parent who has experienced the harms of the so-called ‘child welfare system’ and an advocate for parents who are experiencing the same, I have seen firsthand how this system is designed to target Black and brown parents,” said Desseray Wright, Impacted Parent and Parent Advocate at the Bronx Defenders. “These systemic issues have impacted our families for generations. New York, please pass these four essential bills to keep our families together.”
“Being a parent is one of the most wonderful gifts that you can have in life–interacting with part of you, showing your child love and sensitivity, and watching them grow,” said Cassandra Gonzalez, Impacted Parent & Program Support Manager at Rise Magazine. “When child protective services came into my life, they took that gift away. They treated me like a suspect, not a parent. New Yorkers need to know that this system does not always act in a child’s best interest.”
“I am imploring New York to stop proactively hiding our rights from us,” said Danielle James, Impacted Parent. “This system relentlessly terrorizes our families, destroys our mental health, and tears apart our communities. Poverty is not neglect. There are zero excuses for the countless civil rights violations we are forced to survive.”
“I’m 47 years old and I still long for a hug from my biological mother whom I’ve never known.” said Tanesha Grant, Impacted Parent. “Every child deserves to know their origins. New York, stop destroying generations of Black family bonds.”
“We’re living under a two-tiered system of family protections in which the rights of low-income and Black and Brown families are regularly disregarded. It’s time to change that and ensure all families are equitably protected,” said Senator Jabari Brisport, Chair of Senate Committee on Children And Families.
“Black and Brown families are disproportionately impacted by the child welfare system due to systemic inequality, racism, and the criminalization of poverty. Each of these bills, which I proudly support, work to create a system that is fairer and more just while providing families with the resources they need and deserve to keep families together,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Chair of the Assembly Children and Families Committee.
“I am so proud to join with advocates today as we raise our collective voices in support of crucial legislation that will help bring our divided families closer together,” Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx, 77th AD) said. “Currently countless children throughout New York are barred from having any contact with their birth parents, even if that parent has no history of abuse and a court determines that contact is in the best interest of the child. Making it possible for a birth parent to contact their child when it is shown to be in that child’s best interest, enactment of the Preserving Family Bonds Act would remove the current legal wall of separation that is keeping families apart and return New York to a model that was used very successfully for many years.”
“A drug test is not a parenting test, yet this test-and-report practice is used statewide to report parents for suspected drug use, tearing families apart in the process,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF – Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. “When people seek medical care, there is an expectation that they will receive only the services to which they consent and that their provider will do no harm. The covert drug testing of pregnant people and newborns erodes the trust that should exist between a patient and their doctor, making them less likely to seek care in the first place. For the health and well-being of children and their families, it is time we pass my bill into law to require the informed consent of patients before any drug test and screen occurs.”
“CFR is proud to stand with advocates and parents impacted by the family regulation system to urge New York to support policies that promote the dignity and safety of families, particularly low-income Black and Brown families” said Tehra Coles, Executive Director of the Center for Family Representation (CFR). “Withholding access to knowledge is one way that our society upholds the racist systems that form the basis of white supremacy culture. These four state bills will help ensure that every parent is aware of their rights while giving birth or at the start of a CPS investigation, end the scourge of false and malicious anonymous reports, and preserve the bonds between parents and their children. The bills we advocate for focus on common sense solutions to protect families and keep them safely together. We demand that the legislature pass these four essential bills.”
“Rather than offering the support and resources that families need to thrive, the family regulation system targets, surveils, and separates families, inflicting lasting trauma and harm,” said Nila Natarajan, Supervising Attorney & Policy Counsel with Brooklyn Defenders’ Family Defense Practice. “While the FY2024 state budget included funding for legal representation for parents who are ensnared by this system in family court, it is not nearly enough to fully fund these programs that are critical to keep New York families together, and more must be done to prevent families from entering the system in the first place. Today, we are grateful to stand alongside parents and young people impacted by the system to call for a New York that empowers and supports families instead of tearing them apart. The legislature can further strengthen families and address the harms caused by the family regulation system by prioritizing this slate of legislation this session.”
“Justice for New York families cannot wait,” says Miriam Mack, Policy Director of The Bronx Defenders’ Family Defense Practice. “New York cannot claim to be a state that respects the reproductive justice rights of all while it ignores the racist abuses of the family policing system. Every day, this system deprives families, most particularly Black, Latine, and low-income, of their autonomy, and subjects them to expansive surveillance, and needless traumatic family separation. The call to action is clear: shift power and autonomy back to the communities that have long been under the family policing system’s destructive grip, narrow the pathways through which families are thrust into the system, and ultimately transform how New York supports all families. As a step toward fairness and respect for the rights and wellbeing of New York families, the Legislature must pass the Family Miranda Rights, the Anti-Harassment in Reporting, the Informed Consent, and Preserving Family Bonds bills.”
“Passing common sense legislation is the essential first step towards repairing the generational harm caused by the family policing system.” says Shalonda Curtis-Hackett, impacted parent & Community Outreach Coordinator at NDS Harlem, “For too long the system has been designed to work against Black and Brown families. Right now, New York needs to pass these four key bills so families can finally feel safe, together. Only then can we begin the process of rebuilding community trust.”
“NYSDA stands with families who have been impacted by the family regulation system, advocates, and defenders to call on the State to enact these four bills,” said Susan C. Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA). “The right to raise one’s child and the right to be raised by one’s parents are fundamental human rights. But those rights are undermined by the family regulation system and its stigmatization of poverty and systemic racism, which disproportionately impact Black and brown families and low-income families. The Family Miranda and Informed Consent bills will ensure that parents are advised of their rights, the Anti-Harassment in Reporting bill will reduce false reports to the State Central Register by eliminating anonymous reporting, and the Preserving Family Bonds Act will give judges discretion to authorize contact between a child and their families of origin when it is in the best interests of the child. Passage of these bills will keep parents and children safe together.”
“NASW-NYS strongly supports A1980/S901, a bill requiring Child Protective Services (CPS) to inform parents and caretakers of their rights at the initial point of contact during a child protective services investigation. Far too often, New York families are subject to investigations without knowing the full extent of their rights in the situation. The vast majority of CPS investigations involve Black, Indigenous or Latinx families, unproportionally subjecting and threatening Black and Brown children to separation from their families. This bill is about transparency between families and the New York State child welfare system. The passage of this bill is a preventative measure for the structural racism communities are burdened with throughout New York state,” said the National Association of Social Workers – New York State.
“New York State needs to make the family regulation system a more just and less racist system. Currently, our laws tolerate such things as doctors performing drug tests on parents without their consent and not advising parents of their legal rights,” said Mark Funk, President of the Chief Defenders Association of New York. “The four bills that the Chief Defender’s Association of New York are supporting today are common sense approaches to fix these flaws in our system that negatively impact communities of color. These bills, and a substantial investment in funding Family Court and New York’s families, are a first, necessary step to accomplishing the goals of a more just, less racist system. New York families are safer together!”
Each year, nearly 150,000 New York families endure the harms of lengthy, invasive, and stressful investigations, and ongoing surveillance by the family regulation system. The harmful impact of reports to the family regulation system and subsequent investigations has a ripple effect, sewing distrust between New York families and professionals like teachers, doctors, mental health clinicians, and others who are designated as mandated reporters. And for many, the harm continues well-beyond the investigation. Day in and day out, thousands of children are separated from their parents, and some even face termination of parental rights—what some have called the “civil death penalty”—despite the well-documented harms of family separation.
Given what is at stake in family court proceedings, including the temporary or permanent loss of custody of a child, it is critical that parents are represented by qualified counsel with the expertise, time, and resources necessary to dedicate to these important cases. The FY2024 New York State budget provided for $14.5 million in funds for parent representation caseload relief and quality improvement, though more resources are needed to fully fund these programs.
More must be done to shrink the pathways into the family regulation system so that all New York families have the opportunity to live free from surveillance and threats of separation. New York must invest in policies rooted in transparency, equity and fairness. Advocates are calling for the passage of four state bills:
Family Miranda Rights, A1980 (Walker) / S901 (Brisport)
In New York, Child Protective Service (CPS) agents are not required to inform parents of their rights at the start of an investigation. As a result, parents are not able to make informed decisions for their families and are often coerced into complying with harmful investigations without knowledge of their rights–including the right to speak to an attorney and to deny entry into their home without a court order.
Data shows that CPS investigations can be highly stressful for children. For children, investigations often include disruptive visits to their home and school, invasive questioning by a stranger, and even strip-searches. Black, Latine, and low-income children and families have borne the brunt of this failure to inform parents of their rights. Privileged families are not targeted by this system at nearly the same rates, and are more likely to be aware of their rights and have the means to contact an attorney.
The Family Miranda Rights Act requires workers to inform parents and caretakers of their rights at the start of an investigation. This legislation does not create new rights; it simply ensures that parents are aware of the rights already guaranteed by New York State law and the Constitution. This bill will improve transparency in CPS investigations and empower parents to make the best decisions for their families.
Informed Consent for Drug Testing and Screening, A109 (Rosenthal) / S320 (Salazar)
Medical professionals routinely drug test pregnant and postpartum patients and their newborns without consent, and often without a medical reason. Drug testing without informed consent undermines maternal-fetal health and is a violation of the pregnant person’s right to dignity and bodily autonomy. In addition, positive toxicologies are reported to family regulation agencies — which expose families to the violence of family separation and deter pregnant people from accessing essential pre- and perinatal health care.
The Informed Consent bill would require health care providers to obtain: Requires all medical professionals who provide healthcare to pregnant people, new parents, and newborns to obtain: (1) written and verbal informed consent before administering a drug and/or alcohol biological test; (2) written and verbal informed consent before administering a verbal drug or alcohol screen to the pregnant person, new parent or newborn in a hospital setting; (3) verbal informed consent before administering a verbal drug or alcohol screen to the pregnant person, new parent or newborn in a non-hospital setting.
Anti-Harassment in Reporting, A2479 (Hevesi) / S902 (Brisport)
New York State allows anyone to make a report of child maltreatment without providing any personal information. As a result, anonymous reports are often used to harass parents through false and malicious reporting. Angry exes, unscrupulous landlords, and feuding neighbors use anonymous reporting to call in false allegations against parents. Domestic violence survivors report that their abusers routinely use anonymous reporting as a harassment tool. State law requires child protective services (CPS) to conduct an extensive investigation of every allegation of child neglect or abuse, even if the report is clearly part of a pattern of harassment.
The Anti-Harassment in Reporting Act offers a simple solution to drastically reducing the number of malicious false calls. In order to deter these harmful reports, the bill requires that callers provide their name and contact information when making a report to the hotline. This information would be kept confidential, while still allowing CPS the ability to speak with the source of the report as part of their investigation.
The Preserving Family Bonds Act, A5394 (Joyner)/ S6720 (Brisport)
Many children experience immeasurable trauma when their families are subject to an investigation, and when they are forcibly separated from their parents and placed in the foster system. For many children in the system, the right to regular visits with their parents – many of whom are fighting to bring their children home – is a vital source of love, stability, and healing. Yet, when parental rights are terminated, children may be abruptly denied the right to stay in contact with their parents.
The Preserving Family Bonds Act (PFB) gives judges discretion to order continued contact between children and their families of origin after termination of parental rights when – and only when – such contact is in the children’s best interests. This law will allow New York family courts to better address the realities of impacted families and better meet the unique needs of individual children while they navigate this discriminatory system.
Sarah Duggan, JMACforFamilies, firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defenders, email@example.com
Shannon Anglero, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, firstname.lastname@example.org