Child Welfare Watch: A Matter of Judgement

Deciding the Future of Family Court in NYC

The Winter 2005/2006 edition of Child Welfare Watch reports on the city’s Family Court, the beginnings of reform, and the chaotic upsurge in cases following the Nixzmary Brown murder.

Even before the rapid increase in abuse and neglect cases filed in Family Court since mid-January, the city’s 190 Administration for Children’s Services attorneys handled between 80 and 110 cases each. Legal Aid attorneys representing children had even higher caseloads. And judges themselves were overseeing cases involving an average of 35 to 40 children each day. It is an institution overwhelmed by the requirements of its mandate.

Family Court is the one place in the child welfare system where parents justifiably expect well-informed, top-quality decisions about the future of their children, but most cases take 8 months to a year before reaching a fact-finding hearing where judges rule whether or not abuse or neglect has even occurred. Meanwhile, children are in foster care. Some cases take far longer to resolve.

Child Welfare Watch also reports on a huge increase in 2005 in the number of juvenile delinquency arrests, a likely result of increased police activity in public schools. Between 2004 and 2005, the number of new juvenile delinquency filings in NYC family court increased 17 percent, and was up 23 percent since 2003. The sharpest increases have been in Brooklyn and Queens.

Other articles in this issue of the Watch look at the implementation of the recently enacted Permanency Law, which created an entirely new template for the process of handling cases in Family Court; the systematic flaws in the assigned-counsel program for parents; and the city schools’ failure to help many children and families in need or to consistently follow policies around reporting abuse and educational neglect.