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Child welfare reforms in New York City would require investigators to inform families of their rights.

Dozens of parents and New York City Council members rallied Wednesday in support of long-awaited reform legislation that would require city workers to verbally inform families of their legal rights at the start of a child welfare investigation.

Under current law, parents have the right to know about allegations of abuse or neglect against them, to consult with an attorney, and to refuse to allow the Administration for Children’s Services to enter their homes unless there is a court order or an emergency.

Those who have worked on these investigations, however, say they are rarely told as much, and they are demanding that ACS workers issue a “Miranda warning” about parents’ rights, similar to how police do in criminal cases. A similar effort failed last year after child welfare officials convinced then-Speaker Corey Johnson that it would obstruct investigations.

“This is not an easy bill to pass,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), at a City Hall rally. “We have already encountered challenges and obstacles and pushback from the administration.

Families of colour are disproportionately affected by the fallout. Every year, 87% of the tens of thousands of children’s homes investigated are Black and Brown. Most allegations are found to be unfounded, but families are subjected to a difficult period or lifetime of city surveillance.

“We have Black and Brown families who continue to be disproportionately impacted by racist systemic policy,” Majority Whip Selvena Brooks Powers said (D-Queens). “We are moving legislation that will make impactful and transformative changes in the first women-led majority Council, one of the most diverse bodies in the history of the City of New York.”

Councilwoman Sandra Ung (D-Queens) introduced a companion bill that would require family rights to be translated into designated citywide languages.

“Today, we stand here united to ensure that the rights that people already have, better known as their Fourth Amendment rights, are not trampled on by this agency,” advocate Joyce McMillan, whose children were previously separated from her by the city, said.

“It is inexcusable that our Black families have been torn apart for generations,” Tanesha Grant, who was separated from her family as a child and has been investigated by ACS as a parent, said. “[Parents] need to know their rights in order to protect their homes and, more importantly, their children, and to stop producing traumatised children like me, who spend every day searching for a family that was torn away from me.”

According to ACS policy, written materials about a family’s rights are provided at the door. During a first visit, a pilot programme in upper Manhattan and University Heights in the Bronx includes information about legal representation.

“ACS is dedicated to keeping children safe while also addressing systemic racial disparities in child welfare,” said ACS Commissioner Jess Dannhauser. “Children and families in New York City deserve both.”

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