Legal Aid Society


Listen: New York Unlawfully Blocking Creation of Foster Families

Kate Wood, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, appeared on WNYC’s The Capitol Pressroom to discuss a new class-action lawsuit that seeks to remove barriers faced by relatives willing and able to become foster parents to children in foster care.

The suit, filed by Legal Aid together with pro bono partner Dechert LLP, challenges state and city policies and practices that deny children in foster care ready, willing and able family members as foster or adoptive parents. These policies and practices give undue weight to family members’ criminal history and history of reports to the State Central Register, even when this history is decades old or unrelated to their ability to safely care for the children. Under current law, a potential kin foster parent must be barred from certification if they have previously been convicted of any one of nearly 300 mandatory excluding crimes, even if the crime took place decades earlier and even if officials believe that person can provide a safe home.

Wood explained that even in situations where agencies have discretion they often treat any past transgression as an automatic disqualification. “This whole system really perpetuates the racial injustices of the criminal legal system and child welfare system, systems that have routinely policed and monitored families of color and disproportionally impacted Black and Brown children,” she said.

“We’re seeking through the lawsuit for the state law that mandates certain convictions be automatic disqualifiers be ruled unconstitutional,” she continued. “And in its place, for there to be a system where the state and localities are providing these individualized, meaningful evaluations of relatives and are not placing undue weight on the relative’s past.”

Listen to the full segment below.