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Court Rules Arrest Warrants for Youth in Foster Care Illegal

In a major victory for our clients and all young people in foster care, a New York State Appellate Court, in a unanimous opinion, barred child welfare agencies from using arrest warrants to return young people to foster care. “We cannot endorse the legality of this practice,” the court said in its May 6th decision, finding that New York’s Family Courts lacked the legal authority to issue these warrants.

This decision effectively ends this decades-old practice, which wrongly criminalized vulnerable young people who are overwhelmingly Black and Latinx.

Lawyers For Children filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging the NYC Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) use of these arrest warrants, citing the wide-ranging harm on children in foster care.

In its decision, the Court acknowledged LFC’s amicus brief saying, “an arrest record, even if not correlating with a criminal record, could have future adverse ramifications for employment or otherwise. Moreover, there is also the potential trauma that an arrest, especially if coupled with handcuffs or other restraints, may pose for an already fragile child.”

LFC Executive Director Karen Freedman hailed the victory:

This decision sends a clear message that this inhumane practice has no basis in the law, and acknowledges the trauma associated with arresting vulnerable children. Instead of criminalizing youth, ACS should be investing in high-quality services, professionals with proper training and resources, and engage young people in ways that actually address their challenges. This issue is emblematic of how social services, including ACS, unnecessarily and disproportionately rush to law enforcement to address social and medical issues that challenge communities of color. Vulnerable people, including youth in foster care, must be supported by the systems that are supposed to help them. Handcuffs and other punitive measures are not only ineffective, they can inflict tremendous harm.

In addition, Nevayah, a LFC client who shared her story with the New York Times, also released a statement through LFC:

It’s an amazing decision. ACS can’t do what they did to me and other kids in foster care. They can’t put young people in harmful situations... being arrested and confined in a jail cell is a harmful environment for developing kids and teenagers. Children in foster care are supposed to be taken of and nurtured, not be slammed into a jail cell.

What’s next?

LFC will closely monitor the impact of the decision to ensure the practice ends for good.

Read more:

Read the decision and our amicus brief

Read the press coverage featuring LFC: