David Shalleck-Klein, founder of a New York City organization that seeks to prevent family separation by suing child welfare agencies, was one of five winners of the $1 million David Prize.
Shalleck-Klein founded the Family Justice Law Center in March with the goal of holding child welfare systems accountable by challenging practices that “inflict illegal and horrific abuse on families caught up in its web,” according to the organization’s website. Previously, he was an attorney with the nonprofit family defense group Bronx Defenders.
The David Prize, which celebrates five individuals working to “create a better, brighter New York City,” awards each winner a $200,000, no-strings-attached prize.
Shalleck-Klein, 35, said in an interview with the New York Times that the money would be used to hire “top-flight civil rights litigators” who would be used to file lawsuits against child welfare agencies “when they are violating people’s rights.”
When the Family Justice Law Center was founded earlier this year, it described itself as “the first civil rights organization in America dedicated to suing Children’s Services and other government agencies that illegally separate children from their parents.” So far, the group has identified three areas it hopes to contest: warrant-less removals of children from their parents, non-consensual drug testing of parents at hospitals and lengthy delays for removal hearings in dependency court processes.
The Family Justice Law Center is part of the Urban Justice Center’s Social Justice Accelerator program and includes a number of prominent academics, attorneys and advocates on its board.
“We think that we will go a long way to keep children safe, while not having the government interfere unnecessarily in the most sacred relationship, which is the parent-child relationship,” Shalleck-Klein said in an interview in March.