Committee Reports

Support for the Destitute Minors Bill

SUMMARY

The Council on Children issued a report in support of “an act to amend the Family Court Act, in relation to proceedings regarding destitute children.” The bill “amends section 1093 of the family court act to provide that in addition to the commissioner of social services, the child that is the subject of the petition, if such child is over the age of fourteen, or any other person on the court’s direction, may originate a proceeding under this section alleging that the child is a destitute child” as defined by the statute. The bill would help to ensure that, when youths in New York State lack sufficient food, clothing, shelter or medical or surgical care and are without an adult available to care for them due to an adult’s death, incapacity, debilitation or unavailability, there are sufficient avenues available for them to be declared destitute and placed in the care of a legally responsible adult. The proposal would expand access to the courts for destitute children, in line with the access afforded to children who are seeking to have a guardian appointed and children who have been abused or neglected.

BILL INFORMATION

A.3588 (AM Hevesi) / S.7260 (Sen. Persaud) – Expands the list of those able to commence proceedings alleging that a child is a destitute child to include the child in question, if over 14 years of age, and other persons on the court’s direction; makes related provisions (NYS 2024-25).

REPORT

REPORT ON LEGISLATION BY THE COUNCIL ON CHILDREN 

A.3588 (M. of A. Hevesi)
S.7260 (Sen. Persaud)

AN ACT to amend the Family Court Act, in relation to proceedings regarding destitute children.

THIS BILL IS APPROVED

I. PURPOSE

A.3588 / S.7260 (“the bill”) would “[e]xpand[] the list of those able to commence proceedings alleging that a child is a destitute child to include the child in question, if over 14 years of age, and other persons on the court’s direction.”[1] Specifically, “the bill amends section 1093 of the family court act to provide that in addition to the commissioner of social services, the child that is the subject of the petition, if such child is over the age of fourteen, or any other person on the court’s direction, may originate a proceeding under this section alleging that the child is a destitute child” as defined by the statute.[2]

The New York City Bar Association’s Council on Children (the “Council”) supports the bill. The Council on Children includes Family Court Judges, support magistrates, court attorneys, advocates for economic justice, and attorneys representing children, parents, and caregivers, who have a broad range of experience with the issue addressed by the bill. The Council believes the bill would help to ensure that, when youths in New York State lack sufficient food, clothing, shelter or medical or surgical care and are without an adult available to care for them due to an adult’s death, incapacity, debilitation or unavailability, there are sufficient avenues available for them to be declared destitute and placed in the care of a legally responsible adult.

II. REASONS FOR SUPPORT

The Destitute Minors bill will help ensure that all destitute children in New York can receive the care they need by providing that individuals other than just the Commissioner of Social Services may file a destitute minor petition on behalf of the child.

When the Legislature added Art. 10-C to the Family Court Act in 2011, it recognized the importance of ensuring that destitute children are placed under the jurisdiction of the family court and in the care of the Department of Social Services or another legally responsible adult. That Article — like the statutes providing for the care of abused and neglected children, and the statutes providing for children in need of a guardian — is designed to ensure that destitute children have a safe, appropriate home with an adult who has the legal authority to provide for the child’s needs. In order to achieve that goal, statutes like Family Court Act (FCA) § 1032 allow any person, at the court’s direction, to file a petition to bring a child who has been abused or neglected under the jurisdiction of the court and placed in an appropriate home.[3] Similarly, Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) § 1703 allows “any person,” including children over the age of 14 who need adult supervision, to file a petition to have a guardian appointed for them.[4]  In providing for someone other than the Commissioner of Social Services to file a petition on behalf of the child, provisions like FCA § 1032 and SCPA § 1703 function as an important “safety valve” to ensure that multiple avenues are available to place children into safe homes with appropriate adult supervision. Those provisions reflect the strong public policy of ensuring that vulnerable children are protected, without relying exclusively on the Commissioner of Social Services to petition for such assistance.

Currently, no such “safety valve” is available for children who are destitute. Only the Commissioner of Social Services is authorized to file a petition to have a child declared destitute. If the Commissioner declines to file a petition, there is no recourse for the child. As a result, such youth may be left without any adult who is legally responsible for caring for them or who has the authority to obtain medical care and to make educational decisions for them.

This bill is necessary to help ensure that all needy children are placed in the care of a legally responsible adult. It will provide protection for older youth whose parents may have died or left them, and who the Department of Social Services erroneously believes are able to care for themselves, without the support of a legally responsible adult, until they reach legal adulthood. It will also provide protection for children who have been left by a parent or guardian with an adult who is willing to provide for the child’s basic necessities but is unwilling or unable to assume legal responsibility for the child, thereby leaving the child at risk of being unable to obtain medical care or enroll in school.

Every youth deserves the opportunity to obtain the assistance of a legally responsible adult – particularly youth who have experienced the significant trauma of the death of, or abandonment by, their parent or guardian.

III. CONCLUSION

For these reasons, we recommend that the Family Court Act be modified to expand access to the courts for destitute children, in line with the access afforded to children who are seeking to have a guardian appointed and children who have been abused or neglected.

Accordingly, the Council on Children supports this bill and urges its passage.

Cathy A. Cramer, Chair
Council on Children

May 2024

Footnotes

[1] See Summary of Assembly Bill A. 3588, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/A3588; Summary of Senate Bill S. 7260, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/S7260 (All websites last accessed on May 22, 2024).

[2] See Sponsor Memo S. 7260, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/S7260.

[3] See https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/family-court-act/fct-sect-1033/.

[4] See https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/surrogates-court-procedure-act/scp-sect-1703/.