By: Rochelle Bilal, Sheriff of Philadelphia and Member, Special Committee on Child Separations
It is vitally important that the Department of Human Services (DHS) do everything in its power to protect children from abuse.
At the same time, we have to ensure that children are not unjustly taken from parents and that all procedures and processes in place allow for the dismissal of unfounded claims, as well as the swift return of any child removed without cause (after a thorough investigation) of the situation.
It is our highest priority as leaders, parents and residents to protect the safety of all children in the City of Philadelphia.
This is why I am very excited to be an appointed member of the Special Committee on Child Separations. I am excited to work with Councilman David Oh and Councilwoman Cindy Bass, the Committee’s co-chairs, as well as the other committee members who have significant experience in child welfare, public safety, government and law.
As a whole, we will review child separation in Philadelphia’s child welfare system, develop recommendations to ensure compliance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law to protect children, while ensuring the due process rights of families and working to prevent the unnecessary break-up of families.
Often these families feel like they have no voice, and that leads to real stress and a feeling of being less than whole. The system needs to realize that yes, they have a job. But they also have an opportunity to heal. That healing comes with extensive compassion, understanding and thoughtful action to find the best solution for the child.
According to a news report in 2019 by CBS 3, the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia “removes more children from suspected abusive environments than any other in the country”.
— Philadelphia Department Of Human Services Faces Heavy Criticism Over Child Abuse, Custody Battles.
Philadelphia has a rate of child removal three times higher the New York City and four times that of Chicago
— City Council Announces Formation Of Special Committee On Child Separations.
In the past few years there have been a number of news reports about problems at DHS:
• Philly’s foster care system comes under fire at three-hour hearing on child abuse reporting rules
• We should do a better job supporting families, not separating them
• Philadelphia parents say social workers taking away their kids without reason
• The Kids Are Crying: Three-part series chronicles despair, displacement and what DHS plans to do
• Parents’ Nightmare: Social Worker’s ‘Feelings’ Contribute to Child Abuse Allegations
• Grandmother Saves Children From Alleged Abuse, Social Workers Blame Her Instead
These reports raise significant concerns and we have to do better, together.
We need to review the details of everything that led to these removals (and the ones not mentioned in the news) to ensure that children are protected and that parents and/or caretakers are treated fairly in the process. In addition, the Department of Human Services should be operating based on best practices in this area and make changes to root out systemic issues separating families unnecessarily.
Making recommendations to reduce the breakup of families will be one of our main goals as a Committee.
When called upon to serve, we must all do our part. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1968, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve … You only need a heart full of grace, [and] a soul generated by love.”
I am committed to doing my part to improve this system and keep families together because our children are too important to let unnecessary child removals keep happening without action.
Rochelle Bilal is a Member of the Special Committee on Child Separations as selected by Council President Darrell L. Clarke & the Sheriff of the City and County of Philadelphia.