“Children stay in the foster care system in New York City longer than anywhere else in the country... It's devastating to children when they don't know where they're going to be,” Lowry told Refinery29. In 2014, she founded the advocacy organization A Better Childhood. "Some children are staying in foster care and being physically harmed beyond the psychological damage of not knowing where you're going to live, who your parents are, whether you're going to change schools and make new friends, and who you can count on."
In fact, statistics from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services show that in 2013, children in New York State spent 4.2 million days in foster and adoptive homes. Of those 4.2 million days, 2.5 million were spent in New York City.
The suit details 10 specific instances of abuse, maintaining that New York City — and in particular the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and its commissioner, Gladys Carrión — is responsible. The suit alleges that if the system had been more expedient in finding these children — and thousands of others — permanent homes, tragic instances of physical and emotional abuse could have been prevented.
The plaintiffs in the suit range from three to 16 years old and are both boys and girls. Some have special needs, and all have spent significant portions of their young lives in the foster care system. Today, none of the child plaintiffs is in a permanent home, which deprives each of them of the stability experts agree is critical for healthy development
But the Administration for Children's Services said the lawsuit is baseless, arguing that the city has made significant and costly — though possibly insufficient — progress since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office.
"We have been working closely with the courts, attorneys, parent advocates, advocates for children, provider agencies, and, most critically, the parents and children whose lives are impacted by this system," the ACS told Refinery29 in a statement. "We have made great strides in dramatically shrinking the foster care census and in finding stable, permanent homes for children who must come into care."
But the 10 cases detailed in the lawsuit
tell a different story. The complaint details the experiences of children who have spent what their advocates believe is far too long in temporary care after trauma struck their households. Though these children's initial removals were legitimate, the suit claims that viable options for permanency have been ignored or overlooked.
One child, a three-year-old named Thierry, has spent 21 months in ACS custody. He was removed from his biological mother, a veteran public school teacher, after she alerted child services that his biological father had "held a knife to her throat threatening to kill her, strangled her at least three times, punched her in the face and threw household furniture at her." Thierry remains in ACS custody and has not been reunited with his mother.
Another child, two-and-a-half-year-old Ayanna, was removed from her biological mother just three days after birth. Ayanna's mother's boyfriend beat her older sister Angela to death in March 2010. To date, she has still not been adopted.
And while the goals for Thierry and Ayanna differ — Thierry wants to be returned to his mother, while ACS hopes that Ayanna will be adopted — neither has come to fruition.