Kenneth Watkins’s son, Kenny, was 6 days old when he was taken away by ACS, New York City’s child-welfare agency. Kenny was then placed with an affluent foster family. To regain custody, Watkins had to prove that being poor didn’t make him a bad father. Despite Watkins’ constant efforts, it took years to get Kenny back. It’s a heartbreaking story, as journalist Petra Bartosiewicz reports for New York magazine, and shows the cracks and ugliness of the child-welfare system in New York City.

Watkins had stumbled into the heart of a dysfunctional system — the slow rolling of the process through inertia both intentional and not. From the outside, Watkins’s difficulties seem extreme, but it is entirely normal for individual cases to take multiple years to resolve.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.