The New York state Legislature has failed to pass three proposed laws that would have expanded the due process rights of parents in the child welfare system.
Lawmakers worked throughout the weekend, past a June 2 deadline to send final bills to the governor’s desk. But they did not agree on laws that would have barred anonymous calls to the child maltreatment hotline, allowed parents to refuse postpartum drug tests, and strengthened parental rights to legal information.
Advocates including attorney Miriam Mack, who works in the family defense practice at the nonprofit legal firm The Bronx Defenders, lamented the outcome.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Legislature’s inaction on the Family Miranda Rights Bill, the Informed Consent Bill, and the Anti-Harassment Bill, three critical pieces of legislation that would have gone a long way to address the deep harm of the family regulation system, support familial integrity, and honor the due process rights, dignity, and humanity of all New York families,” Mack said in an email.
If passed, widely watched legislation, the Anti-Harassment in Reporting Act, would have required all callers to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment to provide their names and contact information. Proponents argued that too often, anonymous calls to the state hotline are malicious and contain false allegations — reports that waste social workers’ time and taxpayer funds, and strike fear in far too many households.
According to a March 2022 report by New York’s Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition, 7% of the roughly 150,000 reports to the Statewide Central Register each year are made by anonymous or unknown sources. These anonymous reports are 10 times less likely to be found credible, the study found.
The proposed bill authored by state Sen. Jabari Brisport (D) was backed by child welfare experts, groups representing foster and birth parents and advocates for survivors of domestic abuse.
Commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services Jess Dannhauser has also sought to change reporting requirements. “Weaponizing the State Central Register is a real problem,” he told The Imprint Weekly podcast in February.
Another commonly cited flaw in the child welfare system will also go unaddressed by state lawmakers this year — a bill that aimed to restrict what has come to be known as the “womb-to-foster-care-pipeline.” Senate Bill 4821 was sponsored by state Sen. Julia Salazar (D) in the Senate and first introduced by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D). It would have required health care providers to obtain written and verbal consent from pregnant and postpartum moms before administering drug tests on women and their newborns. The tests are a common pathway into foster care, fracturing fragile bonds and failing to address the underlying causes and prevention of substance abuse disorder.
A social media campaign launched in early April and led by The Bronx Defenders, the advocacy group JMacForFamilies, the NY Drug Policy Alliance and the Movement For Family Power called on policymakers to stop all non-consensual drug testing.
New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services has voiced its agreement, stating that the child welfare agency supports “informed consent for drug testing of both mothers and babies.” A spokesperson for the agency described the importance of preserving “the necessary trust between a pregnant or perinatal person and their medical provider.”
Parents’ rights activists say people of color are disproportionately impacted by the removal of newborns into foster care and call for treatment and more therapeutic approaches. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that among 8,487 women whose cases were examined, Black women and their newborns were 1.5 times more likely to be tested for illicit drug use compared to their nonblack counterparts.
A third bill that failed to pass the Legislature would have provided parents under investigation for child maltreatment with a Miranda-style-warning when child protective services workers first make contact. The legislation, authored by Brisport and supported by parents’ rights activists, has repeatedly been attempted but has again failed to gain full legislative approval.
The law has also been attempted in New York City.
Former City Council member Stephen Levin sought to inform parents of their right to have a lawyer present and to deny home entry to city workers who do not have a court order.
“If I got a knock on my door, I don’t know what I would do,” Levin said last year, describing the need for the change in law. “There’s a level of fear and intimidation that a parent feels during an investigation, and if they don’t know what their rights are, how are they going to assert those rights?”