Legal Aid Society


LAS Attorneys: Child Welfare Agencies, Courts Must Curtail Family Separation

A new article, written by Legal Aid attorneys Melissa Friedman and Daniella Rohr, uses the Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) own statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic to demonstrate that in New York City, far too many children are removed from their families.

Child welfare agencies and family courts have long removed children from allegedly abusive or neglectful parents as an ultimate means of ensuring a child’s safety. The theory being high numbers of removals were necessary to keep children safe. With the near-complete shutdown of New York City during COVID-19, the child welfare apparatus had no choice but to remove fewer children from their homes. Catastrophe for the safety of the City’s children did not ensue. Rather, children remained safe across a range of metrics, avoided the trauma of removal from their homes during a global pandemic, and experienced sustained safety as the City began to reopen.

The article argues that New York’s child welfare system must learn from the COVID-19 experiment and significantly curtail its practice of removing children from their families, which can cause substantial, often irreparable trauma to children.

“The pandemic dispelled the longstanding assumption that in many cases, removing children from their home was necessary to keep them safe,” Freidman said. “We have long known that removals cause unspeakable and often irreversible trauma to children, and now we have the numbers to show removals are often unnecessary.”

“The pandemic revealed that children were just as safe—if not safer—when rates of removal were at their lowest,” Rohr added. “We call on ACS, judges, and the entire child welfare apparatus to take urgent note of this reality, reexamine its over-reliance on removals, and dramatically reduce its use of this traumatic practice.”

The article was drafted by Friedman and Rohr in their individual capacities, funded by the Skadden Foundation, and with the support of The Legal Aid Society. Read the full piece in The Columbia Law Review Forum here.