Mission of the project
An Anti-Racist Approach to Shrinking New York City’s Child Welfare System and
Promoting Black Child, Family, and Community Wellbeing
Mission: The New York City Narrowing the Front Door Work Group will critically examine the existing approach to protecting children and strengthening families to identify what is working, reveal what is not, and make recommendations aimed at ending arbitrary, abusive and unwarranted government disruption and destruction of families, establishing effective mechanisms to ensure accountability for past and ongoing harms of the family regulation system, and instituting anti-racist public approaches to repair, heal, preserve, and strengthen Black families in New York City.
The New York City Narrowing the Front Door Work Group is comprised of youth, parents, and family members directly impacted by New York City’s child welfare system; community activists; lawyers for children and parents; academics; state and local government employees; and leaders in philanthropic and non-profit organizations who are committed to eliminating the destructive impacts of the child welfare system.
We have convened to identify and advocate for government and philanthropic investment in family and community strengthening approaches that cultivate and support New York City's children and families' safety, health, well-being and happiness, specifically Black children and families who are disproportionately targeted by the system.
The child welfare system consists of laws and policies put into practice by government entities and private contractors that regulate private family life on the premise of promoting children’s well-being by protecting them from maltreatment by their parents and caregivers. However, there is increasing recognition that the system operates primarily as a “family policing” or “family regulation” system that disrupts economically disadvantaged families and Black, Brown and Indigenous families through investigation, child removal and/or the threat thereof, and through high levels of prosecution, surveillance, and monitoring by “child protective services” (CPS) and the family courts.
Thousands of families are subject to investigations by CPS and the vast majority are not found to have committed abuse or neglect. Misguided accusations of child maltreatment results in unnecessary involvement with the child welfare system and punitive and destructive impacts with long-standing, traumatizing consequences. This is especially true for Black parents, who are less likely to receive supportive services, more likely to have their children removed, and more likely to be permanently separated from their children.
We assert that investigatory interventions have compounded the stressors of extreme poverty faced by families, saddling parents with quasi-criminal records that limit their access to gainful employment and opportunities decades after claims of abuse or neglect have been resolved. While recent parent-led reforms have successfully challenged and changed some of these policies by raising the standard for an extra-judicial, CPS agency determination of maltreatment and limiting how long some records can operate as a barrier to employment, more work is necessary. Meanwhile, too many families experience a persistent economic struggle to make ends meet while living in places where current and historical racist policies limit access to safe and affordable housing, reliable transportation, excellent schools, green space, well-paid jobs with good benefits, and much more.
The members of the Work Group agree that children’s safety and well-being are enhanced when families have access to basic necessities of life. However, rather than ensuring concrete resources to alleviate conditions of poverty and culturally responsive, individually tailored services to reduce pressures resulting from inadequate access to the basic necessities of life, government often responds to families in need with unwarranted disruption and destruction of intact and viable families, particularly Black families. For some families, this has resulted in multi-generational family devastation and trauma, where children removed from their parents’ homes lose custody of their own children to the very system that raised them. This means that there are people, disproportionately Black people, who have spent a majority of their lives in some form of contact with the child welfare system. Counter to unstated yet normalized, racist beliefs about the inefficacy of Black parenting in particular that support multi-generational family regulation, our Work Group explicitly affirms that Black parents are capable of raising their children.
We envision government and philanthropic approaches and funding choices that:
shrink and ultimately eliminate mechanisms of surveillance, reporting, investigation, prosecution and punishment of families, particularly on the grounds of poverty framed as neglect;
prioritize a truth and reconciliation process that investigates the active role the family regulation system has played in the thinning and stressing of naturally existing supports within Black families and communities, with the aim of healing, repair, and disruption of future harm;
highlight the existing adaptations, strengths and fortitude within Black families and communities that are raising children who must contend with systemic racism in the larger society;
enhance the ability of Black families and communities to determine for themselves what child safety and child well-being means and that strengthen the ability of Black families to care for their children and that preserve family bonds;
provide financial and capacity building support to community members and supportive, restorative and healing organizations as the primary responders to family crisis; and
promote child and family well-being, including but not limited to universal access to:
adequate, safe, and affordable housing;
guaranteed basic income;
paid parental, family and sick leave;
affordable and high-quality child care;
quality and accessible public education;
affordable and accessible health care; a child allowance; meaningful access to food; and
other resources that create conditions and environments that allow all children, and particularly Black children, to thrive within their families and communities.
The New York City Narrowing the Front Door Work Group offer these shared perspectives as a foundation for New York City to chart a better course for its children and families going forward. While not all members of the group agree that the current system should be abolished in all respects, we have found common ground in the belief that the pathways into the system must be greatly narrowed.
Angela Olivia Burton
Angela Olivia Burton
Shirley Gatenio Gabel
Angela Olivia Burton
Angela serves as Director of Quality Enhancement for Parent Representation at the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, where she leads the state’s efforts to improve publicly funded legal representation for parents involved in family law proceedings. Burton’s family has experienced the family regulation/family policing system in a variety of roles which has informed her professional work. She serves as Commissioner on the NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children; Special Advisor to the NYS Office of Court Administration’s DiFiore Commission on Parental Legal Representation; a member of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Families and the Law and the American Bar Association’s Family Justice Initiative; and a member of the Board of the Redlich Horowitz Foundation. Burton clerked at the New York State Court of Appeals with the Hon. Fritz W. Alexander II; was an associate at the New York City law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton, and for almost two decades prior to her current position, was a law professor teaching lawyering practice, family law, and children’s rights at New York University School of Law, Syracuse University College of Law, and the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. Burton earned a bachelor’s degree (B.S.) in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and her juris doctor (J.D.) from New York University School of Law.
Sarah Chiles is the executive director of the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, which works to improve the child welfare system in NY. Sarah serves on the steering committees of the national Youth Transition Funders Group and is a co-chair of the national Foster Care Work Group In NY, Sarah sits on the steering committees of Fair Futures – NYC, CHAMPS-NY, and the Fostering Youth Success Alliance. She is a co-chair of the NYC Foster Care Excellence Fund and a co-coordinator of the NYC Foster Care Funders Group and is an active board member of Achillea. Sarah served in the role of vice president at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she headed the NY office; vice president with SeaChange Capital Partners, and as the director of programs for the NYU Stern School of Business's Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.. Sarah is a graduate of Middlebury College and the NYU Stern School of Business.
Jess Dannhauser is the former CEO of Graham Windham, a mission-driven organization focused on building the foundation for success in life with over 4,000 NYC children and youth, in close partnership with their families and communities. Before joining Graham Windham in 2009, Dannhauser served as Associate Commissioner for Performance Measurement, Monitoring and Improvement for NYC's Administration for Children's Services having already served as Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Agency Program Assistance and Chief of Staff to the ACS Commissioner. Jess earned his MSW at University of California, Berkeley School of Social Welfare and his BA at Duke University. He is married to the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, Priest-In-Charge of the Church of the Incarnation. Adrian and Jess are the proud parents of their lovely daughter, Callaway.
Julia Davis is the Director of Youth Justice & Child Welfare at the Children’s Defense Fund-NY. She works to advance policies that support communities where children and youth can grow and thrive, through City and State advocacy to reduce youth contact with the criminal legal and child welfare systems, and support young people on their journey to adulthood. She received her A.B. from Brown University and her law degree from Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University.
Ericka Francois is currently the Youth Advisory Board Coordinator for Fair Futures. Ericka is a passionate writer and advocate who uses her skills to connect with her peers, serve as a role model, and promote positive systemic reform for NYC foster youth. Ericka has interned at Fostering Media Connections, Fostering Youth Success Alliance, the NYC Administration for Children's Services, the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, and Youth Communication. She has presented at several child welfare events, conferences, panels, and luncheons. Ericka was awarded for demonstrating academic excellence and commitment to public service with the City Council Citation Speaker's Achievement Award and outstanding leadership and advocacy to ensure a fairer future for New York City's foster care population by Fair Futures. Ericka graduated in May 2020 from SUNY New Paltz, where she received her B.A in Journalism and Psychology.
Shirley Gatenio Gabel
Dr. Shirley Gatenio Gabel is a Professor and the MaryAnn Quaranta Chair for Social Justice for Children at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. Shirley’s research focuses on comparative social policies from a human rights perspective, particularly those affecting children and families. Prior to joining academia, Shirley worked on children’s issues as a caseworker, policy and legislative analyst, lobbyist and community organizer in both public and private organizations. She has served as a consultant to UNICEF and UN member countries on child poverty and social protection in developing countries, and represents the International Association of Schools of Social Work at the United Nations.
Tarek Z. Ismail
Tarek Ismail is the Senior Staff Attorney in the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project, which primarily aims to address the legal needs of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and other communities in the New York City area that are particularly affected by national security and counterterrorism policies and practices deployed by various law enforcement agencies. Prior to joining CLEAR, Tarek was a staff attorney in the Family Defense Practice at the Brooklyn Defender Services.From 2011-2013, Tarek was the Counterterrorism & Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. Tarek is the lead author on a report co-published with Human Rights Watch, which examined and exposed human rights abuses in domestic counterterrorism prosecutions, Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions, and has written and spoken widely on related issues.Tarek holds a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he served as a Notes & Submissions Editor for the Human Rights Law Review. As a student and teaching assistant in the Human Rights Clinic, Tarek researched and wrote on US counterterrorism policy, including the use of diplomatic assurances as a mechanism to deport individuals to torture. Tarek is a graduate of the University of Virginia.
Dominique R. Jones
Dominique R. Jones has dedicated her twenty-four-year-long career to ensuring that all New York City youth have access to opportunities that enable them to chart a path towards future success. Dominique was named Executive Director of Global Kids, a city-wide youth development organization, whose mission is to educate, activate and inspire youth to take action on critical issues facing our world. Dominique is currently a member of the inaugural class of the Pinkerton Advanced Leadership Network Fellowship. Prior to her appointment at Global Kids, Dominique served as Executive Director of Boys & Girls Club of Harlem. During her tenure, Dominique led efforts to re-establish the organization as a leading youth development organization, providing young people with high-quality programming promoting academic achievement, good health and wellness habits and strong character and leadership skills. In addition to her time at Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, Dominique has held senior leadership roles at Food Bank for New York City, United Way of Central Ohio and as Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Youth Development at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Spelman College and a Master of Science in Urban Policy & Management from the New School, where she served as both a Public Policy & International Affairs and Child Welfare fellow.
Emma Ketteringham is the Managing Attorney of the Family Defense Practice (FDP) at The Bronx Defenders, an institutional provider of criminal defense, family defense, and civil legal services. As Managing Director of the FDP, Ketteringham leads a holistic legal practice that provides zealous high quality representation to parents in the family regulation system. She works in several city and state coalitions that aims to transform the representation of parents into innovative change that shrinks the family regulation system and reduces the harmful imprint of the system in vulnerable communities. Ketteringham has served as the Director of Legal Advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women where she was counsel and strategist on criminal and civil child welfare cases at the intersection of the wars on women and drugs. She has served as a litigation associate at Lansner and Kubitschek, where she represented parents and children in state and federal court and at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
Nora McCarthy is the founder of the NYC Family Policy Project, a policy analysis and research organization dedicated to reversing NYC's over-spending on policing families and under-investment in family life. Nora was the founder and director of Rise, a parent advocacy organization, for 16 years. She previously edited Represent, a magazine by and for youth in foster care, and New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine by and for teenagers. Nora has reported and written for Newsday, Slate, The Appeal, The Imprint, Child Welfare Watch and City Limits. Nora is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
Joyce McMillan is a thought leader, advocate, activist, community organizer, and educator. Currently, Joyce leads child welfare family engagement and advocacy efforts at Sinergia Inc. Joyce serves in the following roles, an active member of The West Harlem Democrats, board member at Families Together NYS, at Women’s Prison Association (WPA), and an Advisory Committee member at The Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA) at The New School, where she also has a visiting fellowship just to name a few. Joyce also has a Fellowship with Law4Black Lives. She is the Founder of Parent Legislative Action Network (PLAN). Her mission is to remove systemic barriers in communities of color by bringing awareness to the racial disparities in systems where people of color are disproportionately affected. Joyce served as Program Director at Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP). She is a former fellow with The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. Joyce has testified for City Council, lectured and held panel discussions at Columbia University, NYU, Montclair University, CUNY Law School, Harlem Hospital and many other institutions. Joyce has also appeared in various media interviews with Al Jeezera, NYTimes, ABC Channel 7, Politico, ICPH (Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness), short stories and documentaries etc. She completed a restorative certificate program at the New School.
Jarel L. Melendez
Jarel L. Melendez is the Youth Advocate Coordinator for the Adolescents Confronting Transition (ACT) Project at Lawyers For Children. Jarel is a product of the Child Welfare System, and he uses his experiences as a former foster care youth to inspire his clients to take every opportunity available to achieve success. Currently, Jarel is a member of state and citywide workgroups focused on issues of aging out of foster care, and has testified before the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly. Mr. Melendez obtained an MBA Degree from Baruch College.
Hope Newton is a Parent Advocate with lived experience at the Center for Family Representation, a not-for-profit law firm in New York City. Hope leverages her experience, as a parent who both successfully reunified with her children and advocated for her special needs son to get private school funding from the New York City Department of Education, to assist parents in navigating multiple systems. Hope currently serves on the New York State Office of Children and Family Services Parent Advisory Board, New York City Administration for Children’s Services Education Blueprint Workgroup, Citywide Family Defender Education Advocates, Healing Centered Schools Working Group Leadership Team in partnership with the Office of the Public Advocate, Rise Advisory Board Chair as well as treasurer and board member for Voices of Women. Hope speaks nationally and internationally on the evolution of the parent advocate movement, education, domestic violence, and has been published; Branded in Rethinking Child Welfare blog and the The Surveillance Tentacles of the Child Welfare System as part of the CFR Policy Team in the June 2021 Columbia Journal of Race and Law. She is also a certified professional coach who uses her skills to coach parents to transformation.
Ronald E. Richter
Ronald E. Richter is the chief executive and executive director of JCCA, a storied human services organization founded in 1822 to ensure that New York’s most disadvantaged children and families are empowered to achieve independence and stability. During his legal career, he has been a staff lawyer at Legal Services of New York in Bedford Stuyvesant, and spent thirteen years representing young people in multiple roles at The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, including leading the organization. He has served as New York City’s public child welfare commissioner, leading ACS, and as a judge in New York City’s family court. Ron received his BA from Tufts University, an MS from Boston University College of Communication and his law degree from Boston University.
Tricia N. Stephens
Dr. Tricia Stephens is an educator, scholar and social work direct practitioner. She joined the faculty at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in 2015, after completing her doctoral degree at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. Tricia’s work is fueled by her firm belief in the power and possibility of recovery and healing after exposure to trauma. As such, she engages in knowledge development that forefronts the strengths and resilience of those who have survived trauma, and examines the ways in which they have also thrived. Focusing on poverty-impacted, parents of color who have been affected by the child welfare system, Tricia’s work also includes a focus on the trauma these parents experience in their interactions with the institutions built to serve them. Her work with community-based and grass-roots organizations has exposed the need for disruption in policies and practices that serve to heavily regulate, rather than help families.
Dr. Anne Williams-Isom is a nonprofit executive, attorney and educator with more than 25 years of leadership and management experience in large, complex organizations. Anne has been a proponent for children and family rights and advocate her entire professional life. She currently serves as the New York City deputy mayor for health and human services. Previously Anne served as the Chief Executive Officer for the Harlem Children’s Zone. She also worked in leadership at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for 13 years. She is a graduate of Fordham University's College at Lincoln Center, has a law degree from Columbia Law School and a doctorate degree from New York Theological seminary. Anne is a long-time resident of Harlem where she and her husband Phil with the help of her 91 year old mother raised their three children, Aiyanna (28), Phillip (26) and Ande (19).