New pandemic directives from New York City court officials may lead to longer stays in juvenile detention or foster care for some young people, The Chronicle of Social Change has learned.
A coronavirus response plan going into effect tomorrow describes how each borough will establish emergency courtrooms for high-stakes family hearings: newly filed juvenile delinquency cases, when pre-trial detention for youth will be contested; and certain child abuse and neglect hearings where a foster care placement is being challenged. The plan, which has yet to be made public, is signed by the administrative judge for the city’s family courts, Jeanette Ruiz.
“These measures are intended to maintain the operations of the NYC Family Court in the safest possible manner while at the same time providing emergency relief to families the court serves during this [sic] medical emergency,” wrote Ruiz. She added that the plan could be modified “in response to changing conditions.”
A related order signed today by the court’s deputy administrative judge, George Silver, says that youth in detention or in foster care can also now be held away from home even after the expiration of a judge’s order, if there isn’t a courtroom available for a hearing due to the public health crisis. The same extension rule will apply to orders of protection, which are essentially restraining orders common in domestic violence cases.
Both kids’ placements orders and protection orders will be “extended under the same terms and conditions until the date the matter is re-calendared,” or rescheduled.
[Click here to read both orders].
Neither Ruiz’s plan nor Silver’s order details how many courtrooms will remain open in each borough’s court building. Those decisions could determine how long children in placement have to wait for hearings to review their placements. Judges or referees will also have the option to end a foster care stay, detention placement, or protection order without a hearing.
Just more than 1,800 youth were admitted to detention in 2019, and the average daily juvenile detention population this January was 123, according to city data. Roughly 200 to 300 children have been admitted into foster care each month in recent years. Both populations have been steadily declining for years.
Advocates and attorneys for parents and children reached by The Chronicle declined to comment about the court’s coronavirus plan. They were still unclear at press time whether the provisions allowing for some child abuse and neglect hearings included 1028 hearings, where parents challenge a foster care placement. They also suggested it was too early to say how many kids might end up staying in detention or foster care after their court orders expire, or for how many extra days; it depends how many courtrooms remain open to hear such cases, and how widely judges adopt telephone and video conferencing, which Ruiz’s plan encourages.
Yet, multiple advocates for parents expressed concern about children languishing in care longer than necessary if 1028 hearings won’t be heard in the emergency courtrooms.
“All of this is currently under discussion,” said Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration, in an email.
Ruiz’s coronavirus response arrives a day after Lawrence Marks, the state’s chief administrative judge, announced the postponement of all “non-essential functions of the court.” The memo didn’t specify which hearings would be deemed “essential,” but suggested that could include “issues related to child protection proceedings or juvenile delinquency proceedings, family offenses and support orders.”
There were gatherings of attorneys and administrators on the phone and in family court buildings across the city today to discuss Ruiz’s plans, according to sources.
Multiple individuals who worked in the city’s family courts have tested positive for coronavirus in the past week, according to the Office of Court Administration.
Michael Fitzgerald is the New York editor for The Chronicle of Social Change, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Megan Conn contributed reporting to this story.