Lawsuit Claims NYC Child Abuse Investigators Violate Parents’ Civil Rights

A federal class-action lawsuit claims that New York City child abuse investigators use intimidation tactics on numerous parents and caregivers annually, forcing their way into households to carry out illegal and invasive searches.

Allegations in the complaint state that these searches, conducted without warrants, often involve strip-searching children and multiple, distressing follow-up visits by caseworkers, which violate the Fourth Amendment. The city’s Administration for Children’s Services is responsible for investigating all reports of child abuse and neglect.

“ACS caseworkers deceive parents, withhold information on their rights, falsely threaten police involvement when unnecessary, and even directly intimidate parents with the removal of their children to gain access to homes and conduct strip searches,” notes a press release announcing the litigation filed on Feb. 20 in U.S. District Court.

Attorneys involved in the case highlight that these practices disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic families, who make up 80% of ACS investigations, with 70% of those cases revealing unfounded allegations of parental abuse and neglect.

Calls for reform in the nation’s child welfare system have been increasing, often fueled by journalists uncovering misconduct. The NYC lawsuit references a series of investigative reports by Asher Lehrer-Small, formerly with the 74, that exposed false reports of parental abuse and neglect from NYC teachers and a trend of retaliation against special education parents reporting such incidents to ACS after advocating for their children.

  • Exclusive Data: Educators’ ‘Careless’ Child Abuse Reports Devastate Thousands of NYC Families
  • They Stood Up to NYC Schools For Their Disabled Child. Then Child Protective Services Arrived

A representative for ACS stated last week in The New York Times that the agency will review the lawsuit and remains committed to safeguarding children while valuing parents’ rights.

“We are dedicated to advancing safety, equity, and justice by informing parents of their rights, connecting families to essential services, offering alternatives to child protection investigations, and collaborating with key systems to minimize unnecessary investigations,” explained spokeswoman Marisa Kaufman.

Shalonda Curtis-Hackett is among the nine plaintiffs suing the City of New York. She faced an unfounded ACS investigation in 2021 (LinkedIn)

The lawsuit, initially filed on behalf of nine individuals but potentially expanding, seeks a declaration that ACS’s practices are unconstitutional, calls for reform in their investigative and search procedures, and demands compensatory damages for the plaintiffs.

“This lawsuit could be one of the most significant in the realm of child welfare in the last [50] years,” remarked Martin Guggenheim, an expert in children’s rights and family law at NYU.

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