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Some Child Welfare Workers Say the System Is Racist

Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll look at a report that asked whether the city’s child welfare system is racist — and found that some of its own workers said it is. We’ll also look at a 358-page volume that may be the most important book that pedestrians and drivers in the city will never read.

Credit…Nora Savosnick for The New York Times

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services is supposed to protect children without overpolicing families. A draft of a report the agency commissioned found that it often fails.

The draft report — which the agency did not release — was based on a 2020 research project. The participants included more than 50 Black and Hispanic caseworkers and agency managers in Brooklyn and the Bronx, along with many parents and advocates.

I asked my colleague Andy Newman, who writes about social services and poverty in New York City, about the deep-seated problems outlined in the report. It became public through a Freedom of Information request by the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit that represents parents in family court.

What was startling was that the agency’s own workers said that “race operates as an indicator of risk.” How so?

A.C.S. workers said in the survey that Black and Latino families are subject to more scrutiny than white parents, and most of A.C.S.’s caseworkers are Black and Latino themselves.

Participants in the survey “described how white parents are presumed to be innocent and are repeatedly given opportunities to fail and try again, while Black and brown parents are treated at every juncture as if they are not competent parents capable of providing acceptable care to their children.”

The report on the survey said that when A.C.S. workers were asked why white families received preferential treatment, “many simply pointed to racism and pervasive anti-Black stereotypes about the abilities of Black and brown parents to care for their children.”

Families surveyed said child welfare investigations were humiliating and traumatic, and caseworkers said they felt pressured to push their way into people’s homes. Why is the process so intrusive?

By state law, A.C.S. has to open an investigation within 24 hours of receiving an abuse or neglect report, and must assess the safety of all children in the home. Sometimes the process can get adversarial — understandably, people often do not take well to an unannounced visitor knocking on the door and saying they need to have your children strip down to their underwear to be inspected for bruises. Nor do they like it when a caseworker looks around the apartment for signs of bad parenting. But this is what a caseworker’s job is.

The survey found that caseworkers feel pressured to meet target metrics, like a certain number of interactions with families. “This incentivizes them to be invasive and not tell parents their rights, and is not focused on either their ability to conduct a full investigation or their ability to fully understand and support family needs,” the report said.

A veteran A.C.S. worker told me that caseworkers will often try to make it seem that they are legally mandated to come into the apartment, even though they are usually not. He said that A.C.S. would treat all families this way if it could, not just Black and Latino families, and that differences in treatment often come down to the degree of pushback a family offers.

The survey recommended a “Miranda warning” law so parents would be informed that they have a right not to speak to caseworkers or let them in without a court order and also that they have a right to consult a lawyer. What was the agency’s reaction?

When the City Council was considering a bill to require such a warning last year, A.C.S. opposed it, arguing that it would make it harder for caseworkers to immediately assess whether children in the home are safe. The agency said it was already doing enough by telling parents their rights after a caseworker has done their initial inspection. “They did not like this bill,” former City Councilman Stephen Levin, who headed the committee that considered the bill, told me recently.

A.C.S. was particularly troubled by the prospect of parents immediately lawyering up. In 2019, during a hearing on a similar bill, then-Commissioner David Hansell said that an attorney who, at the beginning of an investigation, advised a parent “not to allow A.C.S. into the home or see the child could create serious safety issues by slowing down the investigative process.”

The union that represents A.C.S. caseworkers also opposed the Miranda bill.

Joyce McMillan, a family-rights advocate and fervent critic of A.C.S., said last year, concerning parental rights, “We are not asking to expand them. We are not asking to negotiate them. We are asking we be advised what they are.”


Weather

Expect a mostly sunny day around the low 50s. The evening is mostly clear, with wind gusts and temps around the mid-30s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Dec. 8 (Immaculate Conception).


The latest New York news

Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times
  • Companies targeting exonerated prisoners: Like Felipe Rodriguez, above, many former prisoners who were wrongly convicted are broke until state settlements arrive. Tiding them over has become a niche market for finance firms.

  • A tilt toward the G.O.P.: Republicans used doomsday-style ads to capitalize on suburban voters’ fear of crime in New York, helping to flip enough seats to capture the House.

  • Child deaths: Two small children died in a Bronx family shelter on Saturday night after being stabbed several times, and their mother was in custody.

  • Landlord harassment claim: A 77-year-old man has lived in a $450-a-month, rent-stabilized apartment for years. He says in a lawsuit that a neighbor and his landlord are harassing him to push him out.


A book for those who get around

Credit…Abby Goldstein, Fordham University

It’s safe to say that an invitation-only book party tonight will be different.

The book was never expected to reach the best-seller list. Only 500 copies were printed, and those are in loose-leaf binders, not hardcover or paperback.

No individual authors are named on the title page. At $50 a copy, it’s expensive — $31 more than the retail price of “Desert Star” by Michael Connelly, which was No. 1 in hardcover on the Nov. 27 New York Times best-seller list.

The people planning the party say it is the most important book that pedestrians and drivers in New York City will probably never read. (And the PDF is free.)

It is the “Street Design Manual,” 318 pages about the city’s likes and dislikes in roadways, sidewalks, bike lanes and street furniture. It says, for example, that there should be a priority on “nonautomotive modes” of getting around. The transportation commissioner, Ydanis Rodriguez, called it “a living document with deepest impact as a searchable online resource for those doing work on our city’s rapidly changing streets.”

The manual is a follow-up to versions published in 2009 and 2015. Much of the 2009 edition was “aspirational: new ideas for New York with photos showcasing the techniques used in other cities,” Polly Trottenberg, the transportation commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote in the introduction to the new volume. Neil Gagliardi, the director of urban design for the Department of Transportation, said the new volume showed how many of the ideas from 2009 had been imported and applied in New York, from redesigned intersections and street corridors to bike lanes.

The book party will take place in the Ildiko Butler Gallery on Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, where an exhibition about the manual was curated by Abby Goldstein, a Fordham professor. She said the idea for the exhibition came during a bike ride with her friend Wendy Feuer, who retired recently as the assistant commissioner of transportation for urban design, art and wayfinding.

“Going around with her, you are filled with insight into different color asphalts, different kinds of concrete, different kinds of lights, how the roundabout has changed the flow around Prospect Park,” she said. “I also thought that Fordham, their tagline is, ‘New York City is our campus,’ so why not bring New York into our campus?”


METROPOLITAN diary

West Side ride

Dear Diary:

We hailed a cab after a Sunday-morning tennis game and settled into the back seat with our rackets.

The ride, from the West 20s to the West 90s, was uneventful. It was a nice day out, and the windows were open. We felt relaxed and snug as we went over the highlights of our doubles match (his big serves; my volleys).

When we got to our destination, we thanked the driver and paid our fare.

He surprised us by asking that we not get out.

You are the nicest couple I’ve had in my cab in 31 years of driving, he said. He added, “I have to open the doors for you.”

He jumped out and ceremoniously opened the back door on one side and then the other.

A woman passing by stopped.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “Is there a problem?”

We smiled.

“No,” we said.

— Melanie Bean

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]

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