Our community undoubtedly has an important responsibility to protect children suffering from abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or caregivers.
That said, our New York City ACS attorneys know that far too often, innocent children are harmed by false reports of abuse and neglect, filed by individuals whose goal is revenge. Once such an allegation is made and this vast bureaucracy is involved, it can be exceedingly difficult to put the episode behind you.
The non-profit City Limits project of Community Services Society of New York recently examined the issue of false reporting in an article aiming to spotlight how this problem hurts not only the parents, but the children too.
Among the scenarios described to reporters:
- A landlord who contacted ACS on his tenant for child neglect on numerous occasions - each coinciding with incidents in which the tenant's housing support check wasn't coming through;
- A neighbor who contacted ACS alleging child neglect by another neighbor, shortly after the two had quarreled over a missing phone call;
- A homeless shelter resident calling ACS for child neglect on another resident regarding her 15-day-old son, who was removed from his mother's for five days and endured a six-month investigation before the case was ultimately dismissed. The caller was reportedly jealous of the mother's relationship with her boyfriend.
In many cases, adoptive and foster parents have been the target of such vitriol, mostly by biological parents who are unable to avail themselves of any other avenues of recourse. There have even been extreme cases in which some individuals have dozens of reports filed against them in a single month's time.
There have been other reports in which victims of domestic violence became the target of such action, perpetuated by their aggressor. In these scenarios, the abuser may use the threat of ACS action to keep the victim in the relationship. The victim doesn't want to lose her children, so she stays with someone who may in fact be perpetuating even more harm. Batterers know they don't need much evidence for an investigation to be kick-started.
There are no clear-cut answers for just how many false reports the agency receives in any given period. We know that about 60 percent of reports are unfounded, but not all of those are malicious.
However, vengeful abuse reporting is a phenomenon with which even the social workers are quite familiar. Still, they are bound by the law to investigate claims of abuse and neglect. Even if they suspect the report may be false, they still have a duty to initiate an investigation. Nobody wants to be responsible for leaving a child in a potentially dangerous situation.
State law does require the agency to send reports it believes to be maliciously false to officials with the District Attorney's office. However, it's rare that they take this action, and it's even more unlikely that such a case would go to trial.
This is not to mention the fact that such calls can be made anonymously - and many are.
The situation can be compounded when the target of such action is enduring a real struggle, such as depression or homelessness. They may find it difficult to fight.
But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Our experienced ACS attorneys are committed to ensuring that such false reports don't continue to plague you. Call us today for more information about how we can help.
If you have been the target of ACS abuse or neglect reports in New York City, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
False Abuse Reports Trouble Child Welfare Advocates, Oct. 4, 2013, By Rachel Blustain, City Limits
More Blog Entries:
Brooklyn Child Custody and Abuse Claims: Proving Your Case, Sept. 18, 2013, New York City ACS Lawyer Blog