Why is New York City telling teachers not to keep kids safe?

When you see something, should you say something? According to the Office of Children and Family Services, it depends on the race of the victim.

New orientation released Last Month for New York City Teachers offers some unusual advice.

Instead of reporting suspected cases of abuse to the Administration for Children’s Services, teachers should remain silent in cases where a family “just needs help, such as access to child care assistance, mental health counseling, or concrete resources.” Commissioner Jess Dannhauser announced at a news conference in mid-October.

The revised educator training is part of a plan to reduce the number of children who are reported to ACS and, in particular, the disproportionate number of Black and Latino children.

The need to reduce the number of reports is clear: anecdotal evidence suggests that too many children are finding their way into the child welfare system.

Children who, for example, walk alone to the park or children who are left alone in the car while one of their parents runs into the supermarket.

Not only are these children in no real danger, but calls like these waste valuable time for the hotline and social workers committed to keeping children safe.

Still, the underlying assumption that students who come to class poorly dressed, washed, or fed—or who live in unheated homes—are not the concern of the child welfare system is flawed.

It’s true that the city’s social safety net can sometimes be stretched, but there are important public and private resources to help families in need, and parents with basic resources should turn to them.

But not all parents can make such crucial decisions.

Some may need “mental health counseling” (to cite Dannhauser’s example), which makes a report to child welfare even more important.

In fact, parents dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse issues may not even realize that their child is suffering.

And this is where things go from bad to tragic, as the majority of child abuse deaths in the United States are due to neglect, not abuse.

Guidelines recently announced by New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services suggest that teachers should not report suspected cases of abuse if the families are black.

Keeping children safe is neither simple nor easy.

Part of the problem is the countless actors involved.

Well-meaning teachers may worry that a student will miss school, arrive late, or arrive careless and hungry.

For them, the family may simply need some extra money or a referral to standard support services.

The new policy guidelines are especially concerning considering that schools are often the first line of defense in keeping children safe.

But the teacher won’t know that the police have been to the house five times in the last month due to domestic violence or that the mother has a history of addiction.

And basic support services groups will not have these details either.

The solution, offered by Danhauser and the Office of Children and Family Services, is to simply suggest that teachers keep their mouths shut more often.

They will tell teachers how traumatic child welfare investigations are.

Or instilling in teachers the consequences of “implicit bias” because child welfare research has a disproportionate impact on Black families.

Sometimes at-risk families “just need help,” ACS Commissioner Jess Dannhauser suggested last month. Maybe… or maybe they need a lot more.
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Teachers, they will say, should think twice (or more, ideally) before reporting a black child.

This would be a mistake.

For one thing, “there is no evidence that implicit bias or racial sensitivity training changes behavior,” according to a recent study. article in the magazine Child Abuse and Neglect.

A “review of nearly 1,000 reports of interventions designed to reduce prejudice…found little consistent evidence of effectiveness. . . In fact, there are some indications… that mandatory diversity and racial sensitivity training efforts may… . . increase discrimination and prejudice.”

Black children are reported more frequently to child welfare, but there is no evidence that this is due to bias.

In fact, it is often teachers (of the same race), as well as neighbors and family members who make the reports.

Which makes sense.

Nationally, black children are twice They are more likely to be abused or neglected and three times more likely to be victims of an abuse-related death.

Teachers may have the best intentions, but they often fail to understand, or even realize, the full scope of a family’s needs.

A New York Times analysis of child homicides in New York City between 2016 and 2022 found that Black children “were killed by family members at a rate approximately seven times that of white and Asian children and three times the rate of Hispanic children ”.

But no, ACS says, teachers should feel free to ignore their instincts and not report the black child so that research numbers drop even further.

The truth is that teachers are often the only adults who regularly see a child in danger at home. Discouraging them from reporting to authorities is not only illogical, it can be deadly.

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