Parents and advocates in New York are urging lawmakers to pass a proposed bill that would require Child Protective Services (CPS) to inform families of their rights before any investigation proceedings take place. Current regulations require the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to inspect homes for potential child abuse or neglect, but many have criticized their approach, particularly towards minority families.
Parents frequently express concerns that their interactions with ACS are filled with unfounded accusations and intimidation tactics meant to elicit cooperation. The legislation under consideration would require CPS workers to explain families’ legal rights prior to pushing for collaboration during the investigation process.
Tanesha Grant, a Black parent who has had several run-ins with ACS that have all been unsubstantiated, said, “They purposely withhold your rights from you and scare you with the threat of taking your children. They always tried to coerce me and make me afraid that I would somehow lose my children if I didn’t [obey] them.”
The bill proposed, paralleling the “Miranda rights” police officers must inform arrestees of, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and State Senator Jabari Brisport. A study by the Center for New York City Affairs in 2019 highlighted that areas with higher black populations witnessed significantly more CPS investigations than predominantly white neighborhoods.
Assemblywoman Walker noted that current policies amplify existing inequalities within the system. She said, “Current policy exploits and exacerbates inequities within the system. Black, brown, and low-income families are not only targeted by caseworkers at the highest rates but are also less likely to have access to legal advice or counsel when child protective services workers knock on their door.”
ACS workers can only request a court order after attempting to get parents or guardians to voluntarily address child neglect or abuse allegations. A report by ProPublica in October 2019 showed that this approach is only taken in about 0.2% of cases each year.
Walker alleges that in the remaining cases, homes are entered under the pretense of “voluntary consent,” often coupled with coercion or threats, saying, “Most parents are not aware of their right to deny entry.”
ACS data reveals nearly 60,000 allegations were referred by the state in 2022, with about 30% of those cases substantiated by investigators. Despite this, less than 10% of the cases resulted in court intervention.
The ACS conveyed its support for the bill without explicitly endorsing the drafted proposal. A spokesperson for the department said, “ACS supports legislation that would require child protective specialists to provide oral and written information to parents about their rights, at the initial point of contact. We look forward to legislation that balances both the need for parents to have information about their rights with the need for child welfare agencies to assess the safety of children who have been reported as possibly abused or neglected.” ACS is also currently running a pilot program, testing the premise of informing parents about their rights before proceeding with any investigation.
If the proposed legislation is passed, caseworkers would be required to explain, in the family’s preferred language, that they can refuse to collaborate without a court order.