Judges Refuse to Reunite Children of Color with Their
By Woody Henderson
have been many debates; on the unreasonable length of
time it takes to reunite with their families the children
of color once placed in foster care by (ACS) the Administration
for Children's Services, especially in low-risk cases.
At a recent Fordham University conference on child welfare,
a family court judge said the court is slow in returning
children to their parents in low-risk cases because three
years down the road these same children may end up as
statistics: being killed, abused, or severely neglected
by their parents. This statement is akin to fortune telling
and robs the parents of the presumption of innocence,
which is in itself unconstitutional: it also ignores the
fact that the very fears the judge was referring to could
not be present in cases classified as low-risk.
This philosophy could explain why the average length of
stay for a child in foster care in New York City is over
four years, more than twice the national average.
Connecting that to the increasing rate of adoptions generated
from low-risk cases in communities of color and driven
by (ASFA) the Adoptions and Safe Families Act, one could
conclude this logic is directed at destroying families
of color. I emphasize "families of color" because over
98% of the families affected are Black or Latino. If similar
practices were taking place in white communities, there
would be an uproar that would shake the very foundation
of society itself and all hell would break loose.
Queens County Family Court Judge Fran Lubow was re-appointed
to the bench by Mayor Giuliani in spite of a recommendation
by the Association of the Bar of New York that she not
be. In their report they said, "There were serious problems
relating to the Judge's demeanor and temperament and inappropriate
treatment of persons who appeared before her, both un-represented
litigants and lawyers?"
one instance using the philosophy of protecting children
of color from their own families, Judge Lubow has kept
a 13-year old boy in foster care for over three years.
She told the boy's mother she was going to keep her son,
an honor student who had never been in trouble, from becoming
a criminal like the rest of them...referring to young
Black men. These types of cases are a much clearer example
of racial profiling than the percentages used to prove
there was racial profiling by the police in New York and
on the New Jersey Turnpike. Even worse It also involves
the unlawful separation of children from their families
based to often only on hearsay.
Family court judges have the final say on how long and
why a child is held in the custody of ACS. These judges
are more at fault for this travesty of justice disproportionately
affecting communities of color than the poor caseworkers
at ACS, who are on the front lines and in many ways themselves
victims. Caseworkers are often forced by supervisors and
ACS lawyers to operate under the philosophy "When in doubt,
take them out," instead of "when in doubt find out."
Some caseworkers say they are often told to rewrite investigative
reports to reflect what the judge needs to rule in ACS's
favor. Since most judges in family court don't talk to
the caseworkers or the children involved or ask either
of them direct questions, they deprive themselves of important
data based on observations by the investigating caseworkers
or the children that could help in making fairer decisions.
This, lack of information along with the high percentage
of former prosecutors appointed to judgeships in family
court by Mayor Giuliani, has dealt devastating blows to
families of color and subsequently to society as a whole.
The prosecutorial background of family court judges may
contribute to why so many of them seem to look at litigants
as criminals or potential criminals. Like everyone else,
judges' experiences and backgrounds can have an affect
on their decision making.
For example, Sandra Bookman of ABC News and I sat in on
a case brought before Queens County Family Court, Judge
Stephen Bogacz, a former prosecutor appointed by Rudolph
Giuliani. A seven-year old boy had just been removed from
his school and placed into foster care because of a report
by the school to ACS that the father refused to take the
boy for an eye exam. The child however had 20-20 vision
and the father had taken him for an eye exam, but the
school or ACS had misplaced the records.
the judge called the case, the father showed the caseworker
the doctor's eye exam report. When the father's attorney
questioned the caseworker under oath, she testified to
making a mistake in removing the child and agreed the
child would be better off with his father rather than
in foster care. The ACS lawyer disagreed with his own
caseworker and requested the judge not release the child
because they had come across other information related
to the child that they wanted to investigate. This new
information had nothing to do with the child's safety
or the original reason the child was taken into custody.
The judge however, complied with the ACS lawyer's request,
and refused to reunite the child with his father.
The new questions raised by the ACS attorney referred
to educational neglect, which even if proved, presented
no risk or danger to the child. Plus, the removal of the
Child without a court order in the first place was unconstitutional.
The judge nevertheless went along with the ridiculous
request of the ACS attorney.
Neither Sandra Bookman nor I could believe what we had
just witnessed. The judge of course was unaware the press
was in the room. I don't believe the presence of the press
would have changed his decision to detain the child; however,
it might have changed the arrogant demeanor he displayed
toward the court appointed attorney representing the father.
Ultimately all charges proved unfounded and seven and
a half months later the child was reunited with his father.
There was no legal or moral justification for the trauma
this family was put through. Rather than the facts before
him at the start of the trial the judge based his decision
on, suspicions offered by the ACS attorney after the fact.
Certainly in this case, logically, the only reason for
the ACS attorney to overrule his own caseworker, who at
least had first-hand contact with the child and his father,
would be the attorney was more focused on winning the
case than seeing to the best interest of the child.
Mayor Giuliani is a former prosecutor and all ACS attorneys'
work for an agency that has a commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta,
who is also a former prosecutor and appointed by Mayor
Giuliani. The procedures ACS attorneys must follow when
presenting cases in family court are set by Joseph Cardieri,
a Deputy Commissioner for ACS and General Counsel for
Legal Services at ACS, he was also appointed by Rudolph
At last count, at least 13 of the 20 judges appointed
to the family court by Mayor Giuliani are former prosecutors.
So, the family court and ACS are both top-heavy with former
prosecutors. This to some degree may explain why so many
parents feel they are treated like criminals in family
court and why their children so often end up in foster
care, and some even robbed of their birthrights, but,
that's a story for another day.
only thing that would be worse for people of color who
make up over 98% of the cases brought before family court
is if Mr. Giuliani appoints his own cousin, Joseph Cardieri,
to the bench of family court, as is rumored. Of course,
that would be an outright conflict of interest. Even Rudolph
Giuliani can't be that arrogant.
So, the reason it takes so long to reunite children of
color with their families is that the same person Mayor
Giuliani) who appoints those who run the agency that charges
their parents with abuse or neglect also appoints the
judges who decide if those parents are guilty of the charges
of abuse or neglect. It all comes back to what the Mayor
wants, or don't want, and that's the main reason Judges
refuse to reunite children of color with their families.
As the great Black news commentator, ` Roy Wood would
say, "Now, run and tell that"