‘I refuse to put my name to this report.’ (Courtesy of Rafael Mangual)

Kids in Jeopardy

I quit a civil rights group because its policies will harm children.

Today, I resigned from a civil rights committee seeking to reform how child abuse and neglect is investigated in New York State. I resigned because I believe the committee’s pathological obsession with racial disparity will endanger the lives of our most vulnerable children, especially black children.

I was appointed to the New York State Advisory Committee (NYSAC) to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2020. Two years later, I grew concerned when my fellow members decided to investigate what they called the disproportionate number of black families who enter the child welfare system. The result is a report that, among other things, seeks to make it harder for a child in long-term foster care to be adopted. I refuse to put my name to this report.

The committee also wants to make it easier for felons to become foster parents. They want to eliminate legal obligations for certain professionals, like pediatricians and schoolteachers, to report suspected child abuse and neglect. And they want to eliminate people’s ability to report such concerns anonymously. 

They also want to make it so that drug use by parents, including pregnant mothers, won’t prompt a child welfare intervention. There is no mention in the report about what harm drug use might do to a baby’s development, or how being raised by a drug-addicted parent will affect a child’s future. NYSAC believes racial equity requires this radical policy shift. 

In 2022, The New York Times reported that in New York City, “Black families are seven times as likely as white families to be accused of child maltreatment.” But, according to that same NYC report, black children who live with parents charged with abuse are about seven times more likely to be killed than kids in white and Asian households. NYSAC has fixated on the first set of numbers, while showing a shocking lack of concern about the second. 

My fellow committee members did not seek open-minded examination of these problems. Their minds were made up before any evidence was presented at our hearings. 

Each state in the U.S. has a similar committee like NYSAC whose role is to advise the Commission about civil rights matters in their locales. In practice, these committees often wield their power to influence public policy. And putting children at risk to yield more appealing statistical outcomes is a trend.

Last week, for example, The Free Press reported that Mass General Brigham hospital will no longer consider the presence of drugs in newborns a sufficient cause for reporting a problem, because this phenomenon “disproportionately affects Black people,” the hospital explained

It is always painful and difficult when a family is investigated for abuse and when a child is removed from a home. There is no doubt that some families have been mistreated by the system, and that racism still casts a shadow. 

But New York’s newspapers have spilled a lot of ink describing the horrifying cases of innocent black children abused and even beaten to death because the child welfare system didn’t move swiftly enough. Now, my former NYSAC colleagues are doing their best to stop this imperfect system from moving at all. I hope my resignation will raise the alarm about the consequences of their misguided thinking.

Rafael A. Mangual is the Nick Ohnell Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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