Appellate court ruling blocks warrants against foster kids who leave home

Queens Family Court.  Eagle  photo by Andy Katz

Queens Family Court. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

By David Brand

A New York State appeals court has unanimously rejected a city practice of seeking arrest warrants for children in foster care who leave their placements.

Attorneys representing two foster children who left their placements challenged the New York City Administration for Children’s Services’s policy of requesting arrest warrants to apprehend children who leave their foster homes or facilities without permission.

Five justices from the State’s Appellate Division, First Department ruled against the practice Tuesday, writing that “in the absence of more explicit statutory authority we cannot endorse the legality of the practice.”

The two children who brought the case against the city frequently left their foster care placements and were at risk of harm on the streets, the justices wrote in their decision, but ACS did not have the authority to request an arrest warrant. Instead, the state legislature should bolster supervision policies that would not result in arrest, the court continued. Absconding from a foster care placement is not a criminal offense.

“It seems clear that ACS, with effective judicial backing, needs tools in cases such as this to maintain children, who have not been adjudicated juvenile delinquents but who chronically abscond, in controlled settings where they can be administered medically prescribed medication and receive appropriate therapeutic and other services without which there is the significant and demonstrated likelihood that they will be a danger to themselves or others but who, by regularly absconding, are likely to end up on the streets vulnerable and unprotected,” the court wrote.

The Legal Aid Society, which challenged the practice on behalf of one of the children, welcomed the decision.

“This long running and unlawful practice that criminalized our young clients and others in foster care is finally no more,” said Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice. “This decision recognizes that trauma inflicted on youth when the police are involved and an unnecessary arrest is made. ACS must devise a way to deal with these situations that does not involve handcuffs.”