Child welfare authorities may not take children from parents and place them in foster care merely because they have been exposed to domestic abuse at home, the New York Court of Appeals ruled. The New York Times says that the court formalized standards for removing children from homes where domestic abuse occurs, requiring that authorities exhaust alternatives and insisting that the possible threat to the child’s health or welfare be imminent. The court said unanimously that it was not acceptable to take children out of their homes solely because they had seen the mother being beaten, suggesting that it would unfairly punish innocent women and even harm the children. The court said that removing children from such homes without prior court approval – emergency actions that another court found the city had used for years – should be contemplated only in the rarest of instances.
Some child welfare experts, as well as lawyers with experience in the state’s Family Court system, said the ruling could have profound implications for how the city handles the full range of child welfare cases, even those not directly involving domestic violence. They pointed to language that child welfare officials would have to balance the risk of leaving children in potentially dangerous homes with the possible trauma caused by being separated from their parents. I definitely think this will go beyond the context of domestic violence,” said Karen Freedman of Lawyers for Children, which represents children in foster care.