Children & Families | 2024 NYS Legislative Agenda

Protect Children During Custodial Police Interrogation

The City Bar supports legislation to protect children during custodial police interrogation (S.1099 Sen. Bailey). Youth are uniquely vulnerable to making an unknowing, unintelligent, or involuntary waiver of their Miranda rights and of providing unreliable or false confessions. The proposed legislative amendment defines key terms in the current law and provides additional safeguards to protect the Constitutional rights of children. The amendment defines when the police must contact the youth’s parent or guardian and requires that a youth subjected to custodial interrogation first consult an attorney. New York’s current interrogation law fails to protect children, despite their well-known vulnerabilities, as recognized by passage of recent legislative reforms, such as Raise the Age, that center on where a young person is in their development in approaches to public safety. The effect of New York’s current approach is disproportionately visited upon Black and Latinx youth subject to custodial interrogations. New York’s youth justice system continues to be marked by deep racial and ethnic disparities from arrest to case resolution. An attorney can assist youth in understanding their legal rights and the potential consequences of waiving those rights.

Enact the Anti-Harassment in Reporting Bill

Under current state law, anyone may call the child maltreatment hotline, for any reason, and anonymously lodge a report of abuse or neglect. Because members of the public are not required to provide any identifying information, this results in many false and malicious reports of child maltreatment. The Anti-Harassment in Reporting Bill (also known as the Confidential Reporting Bill) (A.2479 AM Hevesi / S.902 Sen. Brisport) would benefit children and families by ending the anonymous reporting of alleged child maltreatment and requiring all reporters to identify themselves, thereby deterring false and malicious reporting. The bill provides that reports will continue to remain confidential, except for the investigating child protective specialists. Reports of child abuse and neglect, and the resulting investigations, cause varied and long-lasting harms to children and their families. Reports show that the majority of calls to child abuse hotlines result in no findings of child maltreatment, and many are made for the purpose of harassment. False allegations of child abuse or neglect have a particularly detrimental impact on families of color, who have a history of overrepresentation and disparate treatment within family court and child protective service systems. Families of color are more likely to be reported to and investigated by child protective services, and have higher rates of family separation and foster care placement once involved with the child protective system. The City Bar argues this bill would improve our system for reporting and investigating child maltreatment, and would represent an important step toward reducing the disparate impact of the child welfare system on Black, brown and Indigenous families.

Adopt a Parental Bill of Rights in Child Protective Services Investigations

The City Bar supports amending the Social Services Law to require child protective services to orally disclose certain information to parents and caretakers who are the subject of a child protective services investigation (A.1980 AM Walker / S.901 Sen. Brisport). The bill ensures that investigators retain all existing legal authority to protect children and acknowledges the possibility that emergency circumstances may exist, while also providing parents the information they need to protect their families from unwarranted intrusion. Specifically, the bill requires child protective investigators to inform parents and caretakers of certain rights and information at the beginning of a child protective investigation, including that unless court-ordered, the parent is not required to permit the child protective investigator to enter their residence; that the parent is entitled to be informed of the allegations against them; that the parent is not required to speak to the child protective investigator, and any statements made to the investigator may be used against the parent in an administrative or court proceeding, and that the parent is not required to permit the investigator to interview the child or children. The bill also requires a child protective investigator to inform the parent of their right to seek the advice of an attorney and have that attorney present when the parent is interviewed by the child protective investigator. This plain language “Parental Bill of Rights” bill does not create any new rights, but ensures that parents under government investigation know their rights before giving authorities access to their children, homes and medical information.

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Preserve Family Bonds After Termination of Parental Rights

The City Bar supports efforts to give Family Court judges the discretion to order continued contact between children and their families of origin after a parent’s rights are terminated. This concept is grounded in research and the growing understanding that openness in adoption plays an important role in the well-being of many adopted children and their families. For instance, biological parents can reinforce that the termination was not the fault of the child and that the parent still loves and cares for the child, even if they are unable to parent him or her. Post-termination contact also allows children access to their racial, ethnic, religious and cultural histories, which can be critical in developing a sense of self. Further, this policy is consistent with the federal government’s latest guidance regarding state efforts to obtain permanency for children in foster care, issued in January 2021, which placed significant emphasis on the importance of maintaining children’s ties to their families and communities of origin.

Reform and Improve Family Court For All Litigants

Long-standing, deep inequities in New York’s historically under-resourced Family Court has left that court ill-equipped to respond quickly, consistently, fairly and comprehensively to the needs of all litigants, particularly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Family Court primarily serves unrepresented litigants, lower-income families and communities of color. As found by Secretary Jeh Johnson in his 2020 Equal Justice report and our members who work in and study the Family Court, Family Court operates as a second-class system of justice.

The City Bar has made recommendations to improve the conditions in Family Court that are achievable and necessary and already subject to broad consensus among Family Court stakeholders. Recommendations include calls for Family Court to adopt NYSCEF e-filing; provide regular statistical reporting; enact uniform rules; expand technological capabilities for remote proceedings and for communications with stakeholders; act expediently to provide all lawyers who work in the Family Court with UCMS access; move judges, staff, and other resources from other trial courts as necessary and appropriate to tackle backlogs and delays; and expand judicial resources and management training for jurists. We also encourage the court system to provide clear, public-facing information regarding implementation efforts, monitoring, and how stakeholders can regularly provide input as part of the process.

Additional Family Court judges and personnel will help ameliorate some of the backlog; however, in order to comprehensively and effectively tackle the inequities in Family Court, all three branches of government will need to be committed to that goal and will need to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to get there.

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