Nancy Fortunato, Senior Parent Leader at Rise, testified at the October 31, 2019 hearing of the General Welfare Committee.
My name is Nancy Fortunato. I’m the Senior Parent Leader at Rise. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about these important bills.
I’m here today to support the City Council in calling on Governor Cuomo to sign the legislation related to the State Central Registry to reduce the length of time parents remain on it and automatically expunge the records of parents whose child abuse or neglect case was dismissed.
I also support the proposed bills to provide legal right to counsel for parents who are fighting those records with the State Central Registry, to provide legal counsel during an investigation, and to require that parents be informed of their rights during an investigation.
Without these changes, many families will not be able to get a job and flourish. If you want to keep children safe, you need to support parents from the beginning, not after you remove children from their homes and their family. We do have a voice, we know what’s best for our children. We cannot keep allowing this system to dictate what is best for our children and at the same time denying us of our legal rights. Families are entitled to have clear information from the start, get real support and no cookie cutouts.
We need to change the narrative of how this system views black and brown families. This agency needs to be accountable when they do violate parents’ rights and needs to stop pushing their perspective of what they believe is best for families and communities.
Every parent should have timely legal representation at the beginning and be informed of their rights, just like the Miranda Rights. When parents have an investigation because of a call that went into State Central Registry, they are criminalized and looked upon as monsters before anything has been proven against them.
ACS wants to dictate what’s best for our children when they don’t know our children better than we do. Many parents are coming in blindsided with no real guidance and no clear information from the start.
It’s hard for families to come to court and not feel like a criminal and not have a lawyer that could assist them from the very beginning. Parents have rights and that should be addressed at the beginning of the investigation. Most parents feel powerless in fighting a system that is bigger than they are and feeling like they don’t have a voice during this process.
Legal representation for parents should not be overseen by ACS. It needs to be legally independent. We can’t have the same system that is trying to remove our children be responsible for providing representation.
I also want to say that we need to mobilize this package of bills to be passed. So that parents can be the best version of themselves, living their dreams, and have a better future for their families. This system cannot keep doing business as usual — it doesn’t work anymore. ACS needs a big improvement, and with these bills it can happen.
The agency needs to be transparent about data on race and low-incomes of parents and children living in poor communities with limited resources that are disproportionately impacted by ACS. The agency must have an unbiased system that addresses these problems. Black and brown families should not be penalized for being poverty-stricken. The city must pass these bills and provide more funding for resources in our community if they want to be intentional about building up families to keep children safe. We live in the wealthiest city in the world, so why aren’t we surviving and thriving? It’s so important to reduce the fear of unnecessary investigation and removals and support parent power.