Brooklyn Boro

Report: Administration for Children’s Services knows it has pervasive racial bias

November 29, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has a racial bias problem, and it is one that is so obvious that the organization was outed by one of its own reports.

Following a Freedom of Information Law request by the Bronx Defenders, the New York Times reported that ACS commissioned an internal audit in December 2020 and found pervasive racial bias and incentives for its staff members to protect themselves rather than families.

The Times reported that rather than do anything with this report of racial bias, ACS decided to sweep it under the rug instead.

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“These findings echo our experience in representing parents in family court over the past fifteen years: ACS functions to surveil, separate, and punish Black and Latino families,” said Lauren Shapiro, Managing Director of the Family Defense Practice at the Brooklyn Defenders.

“Critically, the report shows just how important it is that parents know their rights and have early and free access to legal representation,” Shapiro continued. “ACS must reckon with this reality and must be held accountable for the racial bias ingrained within it, which destabilizes families and communities with generational consequences.”

The report acknowledges several disturbing accusations that ACS levied against itself. One that ACS “actively destabilizes Black and brown families and makes them feel unsafe,” by subjecting families to constant surveillance with the goal to find anything at all that can be used against them. The report itself likened the surveillance to “being stopped and frisked for sixty days.”

The ACS report, which was created by ACS itself, said that it presumes that Black and brown parents to be a risk to their children, and gives white parents “opportunities to fail and try again, while Black and Brown parents are treated at every juncture as if they are not competent parents capable of providing acceptable care to their children.”

ACS’ report also stated that it incentivizes its staff to be invasive and not let parents know about their rights when dealing with the agency. It also stated that it encourages leadership and staff to protect themselves from internal consequences at the sake of families.

“This report confirms what impacted communities and family defenders have been saying – and ACS has been denying – for years: ACS explicitly targets Black and Brown families for policing, surveillance, and family separation, and the agency knows it,” said Zainab Akbar, Managing Attorney of the Family Defense Practice at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

As a result of the report being released to the public, a coalition of groups, including the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services, are calling for the passage of Family Miranda Rights Legislation.

Family Miranda Rights Legislation requires ACS staff to inform parents of their legal rights, something ACS admitted in its own report is necessary. The coalition, known as the Parent Legislative Action Network (PLAN), also demands that ACS explain why it hid the damning report instead of taking any corrective actions at all.

So far, at least publicly, ACS’ official position has been against Miranda rights for families.

“We call upon ACS to hold its leadership accountable for the findings of this audit, at all levels: with investigative caseworkers, its supervisors and managers, its prosecuting attorneys, and those setting policy,” said Michele Cortese, Executive Director of the Center for Family Representation.

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