Obey Us. From [NYTimes] Maisha Joefield thought she was getting by pretty well as a young single mother in Brooklyn, splurging on her daughter, Deja, even though money was tight. When Deja was a baby, she bought her Luvs instead of generic diapers when she could. When her daughter got a little older, Ms. Joefield outfitted the bedroom in their apartment with a princess bed for Deja, while she slept on a pullout couch.
She had family around, too. Though she had broken up with Deja’s father, they spent holidays and vacations together for Deja’s sake. Ms. Joefield’s grandmother lived across the street, and Deja knew she could always go to her great-grandmother’s apartment in an emergency.
One night, exhausted, Ms. Joefield put Deja to bed, and plopped into a bath with her headphones on.
“By the time I come out, I’m looking, I don’t see my child,” said Ms. Joefield, who began frantically searching the building. Deja, who was 5, had indeed headed for the grandmother’s house when she couldn’t find her mother, but the next thing Ms. Joefield knew, it was a police matter.
“I’m thinking, I’ll explain to them what happened, and I’ll get my child,” Ms. Joefield said.
For most parents, this scenario might be a panic-inducing, but hardly insurmountable, hiccup in the long trial of raising a child. Yet for Ms. Joefield and women in her circumstances — living in poor neighborhoods, with few child care options — the consequences can be severe. Police officers removed Deja from her apartment and the Administration for Children’s Services placed her in foster care. Police charged Ms. Joefield with endangering the welfare of a child.
She was caught up in what lawyers and others who represent families say is a troubling and longstanding phenomenon: the power of Children’s Services to take children from their parents on the grounds that the child’s safety is at risk, even with scant evidence.
The agency’s requests for removals filed in family court rose 40 percent in the first quarter of 2017, to 730 from 519, compared with the same period last year, according to figures obtained by The New York Times.
In interviews, dozens of lawyers working on these cases say the removals punish parents who have few resources. Their clients are predominantly poor black and Hispanic women, they say, and the criminalization of their parenting choices has led some to nickname the practice: Jane Crow.
“It takes a lot as a public defender to be shocked, but these are the kinds of cases you hear attorneys screaming about in the hall,” said Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services. “There’s this judgment that these mothers don’t have the ability to make decisions about their kids, and in that, society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards. In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’” — a story to tell later, he said. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”
Lawyers for parents say the spikes in child removals tend to occur after high-profile failures in the system, and this could well describe the pattern now: In December, the agency administrator resigned after two children who were being monitored by the agency were beaten to death in separate incidents.
Mr. Hansell said in an interview that Children’s Services has been trying to shift from ordering removals to offering support. He supplied figures showing that emergency removals of the kind that took Deja from her mother were about the same, a little over 300, in the first two months of 2017 as during the same period in 2016.
Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, has examined short-term placements of children in foster care. He learned that in the 2013 federal fiscal year, 25,000 children nationwide were in foster care for 30 days or fewer, about 10 percent of the total removals.
“We’ve inflicted the most devastating remedy we have on these families, then we’re basically saying, within a month, ‘Sorry, our mistake,’” he said. “And these families are left to deal with the consequences.”
After Ms. Joefield was released from jail, she had a court hearing, and Deja was returned to her after four days. Still, the case stayed open for a year, during which she had to take parenting classes, and caseworkers regularly stopped by her apartment to do things like check her cupboards for adequate food supplies and inspect Deja’s body for bruises. “They asked me if I beat her,” Ms. Joefield said. “They’re putting me in this box of bad mothers.”
“It’s a slap in your face to have someone tell you what you can and cannot do with a child that you brought into this world,” she said, wiping tears away.
“I still get nervous,” she said. “You’re afraid to parent the way you would normally parent.”
Birth and Then Shackles
In the spring of 2015, Elizabeth Latimer, then a public defender, was working a shift at Brooklyn Criminal Court when she was told she had a new client.
The woman was in a cell in the back of court, wearing a hospital gown and bleeding heavily. Ms. Latimer’s notes about the client read, “Just gave birth Sunday.” It was Tuesday.
The woman’s medical files show that she had been in her apartment with her 6-year-old daughter when she started bleeding, and felt numbness in one leg.
Her due date was still weeks away. Frightened, she called an ambulance. Then she realized her boyfriend, who was at nearby job-placement program and didn’t have a cellphone, would have no way of knowing if she went to the hospital. So she left her phone with her daughter, told her to stay in their apartment, and walked to the boyfriend’s training site, about eight blocks away.
“I’m like, I understand I’m not supposed to leave my daughter, but it’s an emergency,” said the woman during an interview. Her lawyers asked that she not be named, because her case is still open.
Doubled over with contractions, it took her about 40 minutes to get to the site and back. When the couple returned to the apartment, it was swarming with people. Emergency workers had arrived as she’d requested; finding the daughter alone, they had called the police.
By the time the woman was taken to the hospital, her contractions were four minutes apart, medical records reviewed by The Times show. While she was in labor, police officers stood by her bedside. When a nurse explained to her that she was under arrest, she asked, “How?”
Once she had delivered, her feet were shackled and her hands cuffed to her bed, the records show. Her only reprieve: an officer agreed to take off the cuffs while she breast-fed her newborn son, she said. She was discharged from the hospital with a fever, breast pain, severe abdominal pain and instructions to take various medications. Officers took her from the hospital to criminal court, where, after waiting for hours, she was charged with endangering the welfare of her 6-year-old.
In New York, authorities pursue child neglect cases on two tracks. The district attorney can file a criminal charge of child endangerment; separately, the Administration for Children’s Services can file a family court case, often asking that the child be removed from parental care to the home of a relative, or to foster care. Either police officers or agency workers can take a child from a home if they find imminent risk; agency workers must file a petition in family court by the next court date, at which time they must justify the removal at a hearing.
During her criminal arraignment, the woman sat slumped in a chair, unable to stand.
“I was in pain, I was in badly pain, ready to pass out,” she said.
She found out then that Children’s Services had put her daughter in foster care, but the woman didn’t know where. Because she had tested positive for marijuana, and because of the child endangerment case involving her daughter, she was not allowed to take her newborn son home.
Released from court, she walked 30 minutes each way to the hospital to nurse the baby twice a day. Her breasts became overfull. “I was walking like this on the street,” she said, folding her arms over her chest.
As soon as he was medically cleared to leave the hospital, her newborn son was placed in foster care.
After the woman filed an emergency petition, both children were returned to her after 30 days.
Her criminal case was to be dismissed if she attended parenting classes, while her family court case had no such stipulation. Confused by the conflicting requirements, the woman didn’t attend classes. Three months ago, she was arrested on a warrant for not taking the parenting classes; her case remains open.
Her daughter, interviewed at their apartment, said that she was “sad” when she was sent to the foster home.
Back home, she said, she was “happy.”
She pulled at some Silly Putty. “I get to spend time with my mommy,” she said. [MORE]