Black parents Vs. Family Court
By Harry X. Davidson, Ph.D

On the eve of the “Million Family March” an unpublished paper by Woody Henderson, chair of the National Action Network’s Committee on the Administration For Children’s Services (ACS) “Are the Family Courts and ACS Destroying our Communities Even more than Police Brutality?” confirmed my suspicion that America’s family courts are arbitrarily placing Black children at-risk under the guise of protection.

To quote Mr. Henderson: ACS’s philosophy is: “When in doubt take them out.” Calling it the most devastating and de-stabilizing force to be sent into our communities since slavery, he indicates that New York’s Administration for Children’s Services get billions of dollars from the government to finance the unconstitutional removal of children from their families.

These children are subsequently placed into foster care agencies that are subcontracted to subcontract out the children they remove, at a rate of $42,000 per child, per year, based on a per-diem, thereby removing the incentive to expeditiously reunify the child with its family.

In New York City, 97 percent of the children removed by ACS are Black or Latino. Seventy-five percent of the children in foster care end up in penal institutions (the prison industry).

We would like to see a commitment to protect and provide for children who are at risk ... 75 percent of the children who are being removed by ACS, by ACS’s own account, are low risk cases where there is, and was no immediate risk of harm.

On Oct. 13, 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals, of the Second Circuit ruled, "It is unconstitutional for the Administration for Children’s Services to remove children from their parent’s custody without a court order unless there is an imminent Risk of Harm."

This language is being loosely applied to fit any given caseworker’s interpretation. Workers are told they don’t need a court order before removing a child from its home, if there is believed to be an imminent risk. This is endorsed by the Family Court’s willingness to issue court orders after the fact. The comparison to police brutality is, "We shot him 14 times because we thought he had a gun."

Once accusations are levied, delays and postponements in Family Court, hearsay evidence, worker biases, and improper investigations prohibit any chance of a speedy resolution. Parents are guilty until proven innocent. The process takes an average of one year to complete and the chance of a just ruling is less than 50-50, with or without legal representation.

This assault is not just taking place in New York; it’s blitzing the country. Over the years I have been involved in several white vs. Black court battles for the custody of Black children.

There appears to be a growing trend for the courts to award custody of Black children to white foster parents. In the past foster-care parents were warned not to become attached to the children they afforded temporary care. Today, not only are they developing emotional ties, they are winning custody in the courts. Becoming a foster-parent has become a strategy for gaining custody of Black children.

"Sounds like another Elian Gonzales case to me," I told one hearing officer. I was objecting to a white foster parent’s scheme to adopt a Black child despite the fact that his mother had successfully complied with the court’s stipulations for reunification. Their justification? The child said he wanted to live with the white foster parents.

As a result of my opposition the court simply created more obstacles for the mother, while postponing the matter until November.

In another case the Family Court granted custody of Black child to a single older white female foster parent, ruling against the child’s uncle and aunt, despite the fact that the child’s had already been placed with the Black relatives. The relatives were devastated.

When a frustrated Black mother told a white social worker she was going to take a baseball bat and beat some sense into her daughter, the social worker reported her to the child abuse hot-line despite my insistence that the mother meant no harm.

In another case, a Black attorney asked me to assess his client’s ability to function as a mother to her six-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. The two children were taken from her when her ex-mother-in-law told authorities the mother’s boyfriend had put a snake on one of the children. A white female worker insisted that the child was referring to the man ‘s sexual organ.

When the court discovered that the boyfriend actually had a pet snake, not to be outdone, he was accused of threatening the child with a snake, an act of child abuse, and the mother was charged with failure to protect the child.

A report of a court-ordered evaluation by a white psychologist was filled with unsubstantiated assumptions, speculations, and opinionated interpretations.

For example, he interpreted the mother’s high Moral-Religious Emphasis score as a tendency to turn her problems over to God rather than to assume personal responsibility. He wrote, "the low anxiety trait score indicates that she is not aware of much anxiety and feels generally composed and tranquil." He assumed she was faking. Likewise, he questioned her low average score on the Suspiciousness trait, which reflects individuals who are trusting and accepting of conditions.

To quote the white psychologist, "She perceives that she tries to be understanding and tolerant, and she says she is ready to forget difficulties."

He failed to understand that the tolerance and forgiveness reflected in her high Moral-Religious values score are consistent with the teachings of the Baptist Church she is a member of.

The white psychologist concluded that the mother was paranoid, aloof, secretive, lacking confidence, and recoiling from life. He failed to recognize that Black people are far more likely to score high on this scale as a direct result of a legacy of discrimination, injustice and unfair treatment.

Lastly, he stated, "Her low score on the Corporal Punishment scale indicates a belief in the value of corporal or physical punishment, such as spankings, whippings, slapping, etc. She does not try to avoid using physical force when disciplining children, and feels it is her duty to do so. Parents with scores in this range usually lack a knowledge of alternative disciplinary strategies."

As a Black psychologist I know that Black culture and the Black church maintains the belief that "to spare the rod is to spoil the child." The test measures attitudes and beliefs. It does not measure actual behavior. Whereas, many Blacks believe in corporal punishment they do not practice it because there are laws against it.

However, according to the white psychologist, she is socially and occupationally-impaired despite the facts that she has held a supervisory position for the last seven years, has been promoted on five different occasions and has maintained perfect attendance until two recent absences as a result of her battle for the custody of her children.

If the mother is found unfit, the child will be placed in foster-care.

Woody Henderson and the ORRCF are calling for the support of a push for corrective legislation, to find more sensitive and effective solutions for monitoring and protecting children that are at risk at home and in the custody the family courts and foster care.


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