It is illegal in New York City to make a false report of child abuse to the Administration of Children's Services (ACS). However, that doesn't stop people from doing so. Some may genuinely believe they witnessed a child placed in harm's way. Some encounter ambiguous conduct and draw mistaken conclusions.
There are also unfortunately individuals who intentionally make false claims, usually with the goal of hurting the adult or adults in the situation. It could be a spurned lover, a domestic violence abuser or an ex fighting a bitter custody battle. Even foster care and adoptive parents become the target of these calls, stemming from the biological parents' inability to claim any other connection with their children. Usually, the accused will never learn who made the report, as it is all done confidentially. This is another reason why accused parents are at a disadvantage in countering these claims.
Our Brooklyn ACS defense attorneys know the truly unfortunate aspect of false reporting, in addition to the difficulty it places on the unfairly accused and their families, is that it draws valuable resources away from those children who are truly in danger. It diverts help from the children who need it most.
The system was built to encourage people to speak out and to do so freely whenever there is a possibility children might be harmed. ACS officials, quoted in this October 2013 report, said they do not track incidents of false reports, so were unable to give even a rough percentage. However, we do know that about 6 out of 10 reports return unfounded. Officials say that doesn't necessarily mean the false reports were malicious, but they have meted harm on these families nonetheless.
These instances are more likely to arise from the city's poorest neighborhoods, like East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Officials say children are removed more frequently from the eight poorest boroughs than in the other 42 neighborhoods combined. Someone with an axe to grind knows full well very little evidence is necessary to set off an investigation.
Even more troubling, ACS doesn't flag instances where repeated claims against the same individual or family have proven untrue. They don't want to risk the possibility the 13th report is real, and overlook it.There is a statute requiring ACS to report false claims to prosecutors, but rarely do these cases actually land in court.
The impact of these reports is most greatly felt in situations where the parent actually is struggling with a serious issue, such as depression, domestic violence or illegal immigration. These real problems, combined with a false report of neglect or abuse, might cause child welfare workers to remove the children, rather than offering support to the family in what would be in the best interest of everyone involved.
A false ACS report can be terrifying for a family. But you should not have to go through it alone. Our ACS attorneys are experienced in challenging flimsy evidence and ensuring the truth will prevail. Too often, parents make the mistake of believing they will be vindicated simply because they are telling the truth. However, this is not always the case, and given what is at stake, parents can't afford to be passive. Immediate action is imperative.
A domestic relations lawyer can help you safeguard your interests, your reputation and your family as you counter these claims.
For help confronting a false ACS report in New York City, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
False Abuse Reports Trouble Child Welfare Experts, Oct. 4, 2014, By Rachel Blustain, City Limits
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