The Panel captured what constituted acceptable practice in New York: “Some caseworkers
appear in court late; some are unprepared to testify; and some do not appear at all, without
providing prior notice.” 58 When workers do appear, they too frequently “are unable to provide
essential information because they have just been assigned the case and have not yet familiarized
themselves with it.” 59 Even when workers have been on the case for several months, there is a
significant communication problem within the system. In the report’s words, “[b]asic information
is not transmitted from one contract agency to another when a child is transferred; as a result, a
worker may appear in front of a judge not even knowing why the child was originally placed in
care.” 60 The Panel observed caseworkers routinely ignore court orders. 61 Even worse, the Panel
concluded that “neither the courts nor [the agency] appears to have a system for tracking this or
for holding anyone responsible.” 62
It also noticed something even more disturbing about how the court functions: the judges
revealed themselves to be complicit in maintaining a court system that fails to do its job properly.
The judges acknowledged to the Panel that the prosecuting agency commonly “lack[ed] adequate
preparation or fail[ed] to present a solid evidentiary case of abuse or neglect.” 63 Even so, the judges
explained that they were unwilling to “hold ACS accountable by refusing to grant their petitions
in these cases” because of their fear of “making a mistake and having a child die.” 64 The Panel
condemned New York City’s Family Court at the end of the 1990s as a court system which “comes
frighteningly close to abdicating the Court’s basic responsibility to protect the rights of children
and families.” 65
This manifest failure of legal process also means, of course, that the substance of child
welfare is adversely affected. Many observers have noted how common it is for judges to “rubber
stamp” agency requests to remove children from their parents. 66 Robert Gordon’s criticism of child
welfare court practice at the end of the 1990s described the common knowledge that judges were
going through the motion of doing their job of ensuring that agencies were providing families with
reasonable efforts to keep their children at home. 67 Gordon reported, “in order to assure continued
federal funding, courts regularly rubber stamp agency efforts as ‘reasonable,’ sometimes on
preprinted court order forms.” 68
What was true in the 1990s has sadly been true throughout the entirety of the modern child
welfare system. Despite the substantive rule that children should never be removed from their
families when they could safely be maintained at home with services paid for by the agency, in
58 Id. at 45.
63 ADVISORY PANEL, supra note 57.
64 Id. at 48.
66 See NAT’L COUNCIL OF JUV. & FAMILY CT. JUDGES, CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AM., YOUTH LAW CTR. & NAT’L
CTR. FOR YOUTH LAW, MAKING REASONABLE EFFORTS: STEPS FOR KEEPING FAMILIES TOGETHER 8 (1987).
67 See Robert M. Gordon, Drifting Through Byzantium: The Promise and Failure of the Adoption and Safe Families
Act of 1997, 83 MINN. L. REV. 637, 638–639 (1999).