For some battered mothers, the city’s child welfare system can seem nearly as thuggish as the men they are trying to escape. Sometimes, a woman who is a victim of domestic violence may wind up losing her children as well, when child welfare officers step in to remove them on the grounds that she can’t protect them from the abuser.
A new class action lawsuit filed June 15 aims to change that. “We’re asking for [the city Administration for Children’s Services] to stop the knee-jerk policy where they remove children in a situation when the mother has been battered, instead of removing the batterer,” said child welfare lawyer Carolyn Kubitschek. An ACS representative said that the agency does not comment on matters under litigation.
Advocates for battered women have long held that the policy unfairly penalizes mothers and traumatizes children. It may also discourage battered women from seeking help.
Instead, many champion a “safety planning” approach, in which a battered women is directed to work with special domestic violence counselors who can help her protect herself and her children. Using this approach in a pilot program, ACS helped 178 families over a six-month period. During that time, only four children had to be taken away from their mothers.
“In almost every case, they were able to keep children safe” this way, said Lauren Shapiro, director of the Family Law Unit for Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. B. Shapiro added that this model, widely used by other states and jurisdictions, is generally recognized as one of the best ways to protect and support mothers and children.