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Child Abuse Caseworkers Often Enter Residences Without Warrants

For years, caseworkers from New York City's child protective services bureau, had been showing up unannounced and inspecting Ronisha Ferguson's kitchen, her bathroom and her bedroom — and her children’s bodies — without a warrant. A domestic violence survivor, Ferguson had never been accused of child abuse, but she had faced repeated allegations of parenting problems stemming from her long hours at work, including that she’d provided inadequate supervision by having her 14-year-old daughter babysit her boys when they were 5 and 2, and had also allowed the kids to miss dozens of days of school. This kind of scene plays out an average of more than 150 times a day — tens of thousands of times a year — across New York, overwhelmingly in the neighborhoods with the most Black and Hispanic residents, reports ProPublica.


By law, caseworkers are not allowed to enter and search a home without either permission to enter or an entry order, which is the legal equivalent of a search warrant, unless a child is in imminent danger. Many parents don’t know that they have the right to deny these government agents or don’t push back for fear of losing their children. Caseworkers frequently say things that are coercive and manipulative to get inside homes without going to a judge. A ProPublica and NBC News investigation found that the agency obtains an average of fewer than 94 entry orders a year to inspect homes, meaning it has a warrant less than 0.2% of the time. Across the nation, child protective services agencies investigate the home lives of roughly 3.5 million children every year, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Only about five percent of them are ultimately found to have been physically or sexually abused. With rare exceptions, all investigations include at least one home visit, and often several.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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