Lauren Shapiro, director of Family Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services, pushes back against Mayor de Blasio and the Administration for Children's Services on their support for separating children from their allegedly abusive and/or neglectful parents.
“'People are open with investigators about smoking marijuana recreationally because they don’t think the government will take it that seriously — but that’s exactly what ACS does,' says Gabriel Freiman, a supervising attorney with the family defense practice of the Brooklyn Defender Services, which represents many indigent clients in the borough."
Family Defense Practice Director Lauren Shapiro is quoted in the first article of a three part series by City Limits examining the challenges faced by child-protective services—and the families whom they investigate—in New York City and elsewhere.
The first article examines the death of children within the child welfare system through the lens of increased media scrutiny, which Ms Shapiro decries as a bad impetus for the conduct of public policy: "It is unfortunate that the new administration started with so many media stories about child deaths, but we don't believe that child welfare policy should be developed in response to media stories."
"U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that while he couldn't define pornography, he knew it when he saw it.
Brooklyn Family Court Judge Steven Mostofsky suggested in a recent decision that he knows what's not pornography when he sees it, and the images a camera-ready Brooklyn mother took of her kids are neither lewd nor obscene. Rather, Mostofsky said, they are the product of a mom who is perhaps a little too eager to capture the family's Kodak moments."
WNBC's I-Team highlights the harm that has come to children since Family Court has been closing early due to budget cuts. BFDP Attorney-in-Charge, Lauren Shapiro, discusses how families are denied due process when children are removed from their parents by ACS without the court hearing their case because it is too late in the day.
Our client's family and our staff were featured in an article that appeared on January 20th, 2012 about the effect budget cuts have had on Family Court. Many of our clients are separated from their children unnecessarily because their case is not completed during reduced court hours causing painful family separation that could have been avoided.
A Brooklyn Family Court judge ruled that a positive drug test for marijuana does not automatically establish that a parent has been, or is likely to be, neglectful to their children. Our client was the subject of this case and the BFDP attorney who represented her is featured in the article. A large portion of our cases involve neglect and marijuana use.
Read the full article at the New York Law Journal (Paywall)
In law school, students are taught that the United States Constitution protects the fundamental liberty right of parents to make decisions about their children without unnecessary interference from the State. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld this basic constitutional principle. But respect for this fundamental right is shockingly absent in the child welfare and family court systems in New York City, which disproportionately affect families who are poor and Black or Latina. Remedying this injustice is at the core of the Brooklyn Family Defense Project’s (BFDP) mission.
In 2011, BFDP Attorney-in-Charge Lauren Shapiro was quoted in New York Times story on marijuana child neglect cases. Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges.
BFDP Supervising Attorney Jessica Marcus and Attorney-in-Charge Lauren Shapiro were featured in City Limits article about the mishandling of mentally ill parents by the child welfare system. As many as one in five child welfare cases involves a parent with a mental health diagnosis, creating challenges for parents, children and caseworkers. Advocates say efforts to address those challenges haven't gone far enough.
By Samuel Newhouse
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — The public rarely has any sympathy for Brooklyn parents who lose their children to the city for accusations of neglect. But one Brooklyn legal organization is dedicated to fiercely advocating on behalf of impoverished parents who are in danger of losing their children… Lauren Shapiro [is] director of the Brooklyn Family Defense Project. “Our clients, first of all, they’re poor. The system is totally stacked against them. Everybody in the system is telling them that they’re a bad parent. … A lot of our cases are just about poverty.”
.... BFDP has about 1,500 open cases, which take on average two years to complete, with children in foster care in half of them and at home in the rest. In half of BFDP’s cases, there’s a finding of neglect either admitted or at trial, so BFDP staff work closely with parents to find new sources of financial support or welfare to improve their home situation. “Sometimes there’s a finding of neglect, and it doesn’t mean they’re not great parents,” Shapiro said. “We make unbelievable strides with people. Every parent comes in with incredible problems. … Our practice is built on a belief that people can change.” BFDP attorneys don’t lightly use the term “neglect;” instead, they talk about “obstacles” to good parenting faced by their clients. Losing custody is one of these obstacles, which violates what Shapiro called a family’s constitutional right to due process and family integrity that is violated by having the children taken out of the home by the state. “A lot of people in Family Court feel, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with letting someone come every few weeks and check the closets?’” Shapiro said. “But if ACS is coming to the home every day, there’s no question that that implicates their due process rights.”
.... Leveling the playing field for low-income parents is what drives Shapiro and her staff of attorneys. “What makes us really unique is that our attorneys are doing this all out of a deep commitment to working with poor people,” Shapiro said. “To give them a really good lawyer, I think that means a lot to our clients. They get a team — an attorney, a parent advocate, a law student and our administrative team. It’s a statement. Somebody cares about them in Family Court.”
When it comes to cases of child abuse, sympathy clearly goes first and foremost to the children. But the parents also need help. Even those who are vilified for terrible acts. There’s a little-talked-about world of lawyers who spend their days defending parents who have had their children taken away from them. WNYC’s Ailsa Chang explores how they fight to give parents a second chance.