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New Report Details NYC Children Services Agency Discrimination Against Black and Brown Families

NEW YORK CITY — Today the New York Civil Liberties Union released an interactive analysis of the alarming extent to which racism is baked into every part of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) system.

Using recent data, the NYCLU analysis shows how racial disparities persist and grow at each stage of a family regulation case, as Black and Brown families are subjected to harsher treatment. Less than one quarter of New York City’s population is Black, but more than 40 percent of family regulation cases are brought against Black parents, and more than half of children removed from their homes without a court order are Black.

“Our analysis provides a snapshot of the racial disparities that permeate the family regulation system, which disproportionately targets and punishes Black families and communities, most often for socioeconomic conditions largely outside their control,” said Jenna Lauter, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The data bear out what we have long-known — ACS treats Black families with more suspicion and less compassion at every juncture, dragging them deeper into the family regulation system and subjecting them more frequently to the cruelty and trauma of family separation.”

Impacted families and advocates have called on city and state leaders to take action to reduce the harms of the family regulation system and keep families together. This includes passing bills to ensure that parents are informed of their rights when confronted by ACS workers, reducing the number of malicious and harassing reports, and prohibiting health care providers from drug testing pregnant people and newborns without informed consent. Additionally, city and state lawmakers should ensure that all parents, and not just those who can afford it, have legal counsel during a child protective investigation – a proven way to reduce family separation and the disproportionate rate at which Black children are removed.

“Racial bias is baked into the family regulation system’s DNA, and half-measures aimed at marginal reform will not be sufficient to prevent it from harming Black, Brown, and Indigenous families, as it has for generations,” said Zachary Ahmad, senior policy council at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Meaningful change is urgently needed to protect families’ rights and dignity in the face of ACS’s discriminatory practices, and this requires policymakers to radically reimagine what it means to support families by giving them equitable access to opportunity, resources, and compassion.”

Racism has long-underpinned the family regulation system, from the American slavery system denying enslaved mothers custody of their children, to more modern institutions of “child welfare” exploiting immigrant labor. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the U.S. targeted indigenous families for separation as a tool to force assimilation. The focus began to shift back to Black families in the 1960s as part of a backlash to their increased eligibility for public benefits. Today’s family regulation system largely operates in response to the racist narratives of that era and continues to function as a tool to punish Black poverty.

In a 2020 internal racial equity audit commissioned by ACS itself, impacted parents, advocates, and ACS staff described the city agency as a system that “actively destabilizes Black and Brown families and makes them feel unsafe.” The report also found that ACS penalized poor parents for their struggle to provide food, housing, and resources for their children without offering pathways toward economic stability.

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