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Administration for Children’s Services
by the Office of the New York City Public Advocate
and C-PLAN: Child Planning and Advocacy Now
New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) recently celebrated its
fifth anniversary. Since 1996, ACS has undertaken an ambitious reform plan designed to change
the face of child welfare services in the City.1 To its credit, ACS has made significant progress
in certain areas, including:
reducing the number of children entering foster care by 24% over the last two years;2
developing a plan for neighborhood-based service delivery systems in an effort to place
more children in or near their communities and schools;
improving the systems for evaluating and monitoring voluntary foster care agencies
contracted by ACS to provide direct care to children and families;
increasing the training and salaries of ACS staff;
implementing a system of case conferences with families; and
making efforts to improve visitation between parents and children in foster care.
Since 1995, C-PLAN: Child Planning and Advocacy Now has monitored the
performance of the child welfare system through regular contacts with ACS and foster care
ACS, Protecting the Children of New York: A Plan of Action for the Administration for Children’s
Services, (December 19, 1996).
Nicholas Scoppetta, Commissioner, Administration for Children’s Services, “Prepared Testimony Before
the General Welfare Committee and the Women’s Issues Committee of the Council of the City of New York,”
(March 16, 2001).
agency caseworkers, advocates, parents, foster parents, relatives, youth and child welfare
experts.3 For this report, CPLAN staff reviewed data for approximately 393 cases opened
between January 1998 and July 2000; 61 child fatality reports prepared by the New York State
Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS); reports by the Special Child Welfare Advisory
Panel (the “Marisol” Panel) -- a panel of national experts created as part of the settlement in
Marisol v. Giuliani; and audits completed by OCFS, also pursuant to the Marisol settlement.
Despite ACS’s progress over the last five years, many serious problems remain. While
the foster care population has declined in recent years, those children who are now in care -30,644 as of March 20014 -- are facing increased risks to their safety, health and well being.
Adolescents -- who make up nearly half of the foster care population5 -- are especially
vulnerable. Given the ongoing problems in foster care, child welfare officials must explore
alternative policies that protect the safety of children while keeping them with their parents,
Such a policy would be cost-effective. Nearly 25% of the children removed from their
parents return home within three months.6 By averting such foster care placements through
C-PLAN: Child Planning and Advocacy Now is a public-private partnership in the Public Advocate’s
office which assists families who have problems dealing with the child welfare system. See Appendix I for more
Scoppetta, “Prepared Testimony,” supra note 2 at 7.
5 As of March 2001, 15,061 children in foster care are aged 10 to 21. Telephone conversation with a staff
member in the ACS Office of Management Development and Research (March 24, 2001).
ACS, Reform Plan Indicators Status Report 2 at 15 (March 2000).
better assessments and more preventive services for just ten percent of children in care, more
than $17 million would be saved -- one-third of which comes from City coffers.7
Abuse and Neglect in Foster Care is on the Rise
Between 1996 and 2000, the number of reports of abuse and neglect in foster care that
were substantiated (meaning there was some “credible evidence” that the allegations were true)
more than doubled.8 During this same time, however, the number of children in foster care
decreased by 24%, but the number of reports of child maltreatment in foster homes increased by
26%.9 While rough estimates show that there is a report of child maltreatment for every 1 in 40
7 Approximately one-fifth of children in foster care are in congregate care, at a cost of about $54,000 per
year. The remaining children are in foster boarding homes (family homes), at a cost of about $15,000 per year. The
City pays one-third of foster care costs.
8 In 1996, approximately 14% of the 1,259 (176) reports of child maltreatment in foster homes were
substantiated. In 2000, the rate jumped to approximately 27% of the 1598 reports (429). The rate of substantiation
is approximate because both reports of maltreatment in foster care and day care are calculated together. Staff in
ACS’ research department, however, said that the number of reports of maltreatment in day care are minimal and
that it would not be a misrepresentation to say these statistics reflect the number of reports and rate of substantiation
of maltreatment in foster homes. Telephone conversation with a staff member in the ACS Office of Management
Development and Research (March 28, 2001).
In 1996, there were about 42,000 children in foster care and approximately 1,259 reports of maltreatment
in foster homes. In 2000, there were about 32,000 children in foster care and approximately 1,589 reports of
maltreatment in foster homes. ACS, Reform Plan Indicators, supra note 6 at 89, and telephone conversation with a
staff member in the ACS Office of Management Development and Research (March 28, 2001). There are also
growing concerns about child maltreatment in congregate care -- which includes group homes, residential treatment
centers, residential treatment facilities, mother-child programs, and diagnostic reception centers. There are reports
that youth are locked in isolation rooms for hours at a time and deprived of personal belongings or family visits as
punishment. There have also been reports that children are strip-searched after returning from home visits. Children
and adolescents in congregate care have some of the most difficult emotional and behavioral problems to deal with,
yet the voluntary agency staff charged with the day-to-day care of these children need only a high school diploma or
its equivalent and earn low salaries. James Purcell, Executive Director, Council of Family and Child Caring
Agencies (COFCCA), “Testimony Before the Assembly Committee on Children and Families,” (February 8, 2001).
children in New York City, there is a report of maltreatment for every 1 in 20 children in foster
The real extent of maltreatment is unknown, at least in part because of inadequate
oversight. While monthly face-to-face contact between children in foster care and caseworkers
is legally required,11 a State review found that the monthly contact standard was not met in 54%
Case Example 113
Four children were removed from their mother -- a survivor of domestic violence -- after
they began acting out violently towards each other. The mother sought assistance in dealing
with the children, and, the day before services were to begin, ACS removed the children. The
children were placed together in a foster home. After about a year, the oldest child revealed to
his mother that the foster parents hit the children, locked them in closets, and told them that if
they did not behave they would never get to return home. With encouragement from his mother,
the child shared the allegations with the caseworker. The foster care agency did not remove the
children, however, until the caseworker overheard the foster mother threaten the oldest child
during a parent-child visit at the agency. Even then, the agency left the youngest child in the
home for another week.
In 2000, there were almost 2 million children in New York City and 50,000 reports of child
maltreatment. During that same year, there were about 32,000 children in foster care and 1,589 reports of child
maltreatment in foster care. See ACS, Reform Plan Indicators, supra note 6 at 2, 89 and 98. See also Child Welfare
Watch, “Watching the Numbers,” Unfinished Business (Winter 2001, No. 7).
18 New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) §441.21(d).
OCFS, Case Record Review 2: Services to Children in Foster Care and Their Families, at 11 (December
13 This case example was reported to C-PLAN by The Family Reunification Justice Project, Inc., which
works with C-PLAN on Family Court matters.
Poor Supervision Puts Children in Foster Care at Grave Risk of Harm
OCFS has prepared reports on the fatalities of 61 children that took place during 2000.
Thirty-nine fatalities involved children previously “known” to the child welfare system, 21 of
which involved children in foster care at the time of their death. In 1999, by contrast, 23
fatalities involved children “known” to the child welfare system, 6 of which involved children in
foster care.14 In five of the 21 foster care fatalities in 2000, the death appears to have been the
result of poor supervision on the part of the foster parent and/or foster care agency.
Case Example 215
An 11-month-old foster child died of a seizure that was drug induced -- high levels of
cocaine were found in her blood stream. The Office of Confidential Investigations (OCI)
investigation revealed that the foster mother often went out of town, leaving the now-deceased
child, her two siblings and the foster mother’s two biological children in the care of her cousin
or boyfriend, even though she knew both used drugs. Although the foster care agency was aware
that the children were being left with unauthorized caretakers, neither the cousin nor the
boyfriend had the legally required State Central Registry (SCR) clearance or criminal
background check. Although the foster mother was properly certified to care for children in her
OCFS Fatality Reports from January 2000 to December 2000. A total of 61 children died during this
period. Thirty-nine were “known” to the child welfare system prior to their death, and over half (21) were in foster
care. The most common reason for the death of a child in foster care during 2000 was natural causes -- primarily
chronic illness. The most common reasons for death of a child not in foster care during 2000 were homicide and
accident. In 1999, by contrast, 57 children died. Twenty-three were “known” to the child welfare system prior to
their death, and 11% (6) were in foster care.
OCFS Fatality Report No. 95-00-028 (January 2, 2001).
home, OCFS could not confirm that the foster care agency caseworker was making the required
monthly home visits, as the case record did not contain any progress notes.
Case Example 316
A fifteen-month-old boy was killed by his uncle who took the boy from his foster home
without the knowledge of the foster mother. A babysitter was caring for the child when the uncle
retrieved him. The babysitter reported that she allowed the uncle to take the child because he
intimidated her. Although the foster care agency records indicated that the agency knew about
the babysitter, she was never cleared by the SCR as required by law. In addition, although the
case record documented a history of the uncle threatening both the foster mother and
caseworker, no action had been taken.
Children in Foster Care Often Fail to Receive Basic Medical Care
A State review of foster care records revealed that required health examinations were not
provided for children in one-third of the cases reviewed.17 Half of the children did not receive
the required dental exam, eye exam or tuberculin tests.18 One-third of the children studied had
medical problems and over half had mental health problems, yet 46% of foster parents were not
OCFS Fatality Report No. 95-00-005 (July 28, 2000).
OCFS, Case Record Review 2, supra note 12 at 76. In 1999, there was a State-wide review of 3,000
foster care records, showing that fewer than 1% contained all the legally required components of past medical
history, only half documented the child’s immunization status, more than half lacked medical consents, and only
65% of the children received an initial comprehensive medical examination within 30 days of placement as required
by State law. See Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, First Facts on the Health Status of Foster
OCFS, Case Record Review 2, supra note 12 at 76.
informed of their foster child’s health status at the time of placement.19 Forty-seven percent of
foster parents who needed services in order to appropriately care for the children in their home
were not provided with those services.20 In one-third of the cases where services were provided
to the child, the caseworker did not monitor the child’s progress at all. 21
ACS has reported that it is taking steps to address the inadequacy of medical care
received by children in foster care. The Office of Medical Services and Planning has created
medical services management units (MSMU) to support foster care agency casework staff with
medical issues and to oversee compliance with health care standards.22
Case Example 423
An 18-month-old child with severe pulmonary disease was removed from his mother after
she admitted to a caseworker that she had a substance abuse problem, and she wanted help
getting clean. There was never any allegation of medical neglect against the mother -- in fact,
the pulmonary specialist continually commented on the mother’s amazing understanding of the
child’s disorder and her diligence in providing treatment. The child was in five foster homes
over two-and-a-half years. None of the foster parents received any specialized training to
address his pulmonary disorder, nor did they ever meet with his pulmonary specialist. In his last
foster care placement prior to being returned to his mother -- who had been clean for two years
Id at 76.
Id at 78.
Id at 77.
Scoppetta, “Prepared Testimony,” supra note 2.
23 As reported to C-PLAN by The Family Reunification Justice Project, Inc., which works with C-PLAN on
Family Court matters.
at the time of discharge -- the foster mother treated his asthmatic symptoms by giving him the
same over-the-counter medication she gave her asthmatic adoptive daughter, even though she
had been instructed that the child had a severe pulmonary disorder that required highly
specialized treatment and medications. The agency took no action to ensure that the child
received the appropriate care necessary other than to remind the foster mother that at any sign
of attack she was to take the child to the emergency room. The child was only removed from the
foster home because the foster mother told the agency that she no longer wanted to care for the
child because he required too much attention.
Foster Care Placement Disrupts Contact with Community, Schools, Siblings and Parents
Child well-being does not only mean being safe from physical harm. It is also essential
to meet the emotional and social needs of the children. If removal from parental custody also
means loss of connections to communities, siblings, parents and schools, long-term emotional
damage is more likely.24
ACS has taken steps to reduce trauma to children removed from their homes by
attempting to place them in foster homes that are either within their community district or their
borough. But this initiative, launched in the Bronx in July 1999 and in the rest of the boroughs
in April 2000, has yet to be successfully implemented. From July to December 2000, only 14%
of children who entered non-kinship foster care were placed in their community district, and they
were placed in their borough a little over half of the time.25 During that same period, children in
See, e.g., Wasserman, S. & Rosenfeld, A, “Decision Making in Child Abuse and Neglect,” Child
Welfare 73(2) 515-29 (1994); and Urquizq, A. et al., “Screening and Evaluating Abused and Neglected Children
Entering Protective Custody,” Child Welfare 73 (2) pp 155-71 (1994).
ACS, “Realizing Reform: ACS Strategic Planning Conference,” (March 2001).
kinship foster care were placed in their community district about one-quarter of the time and in
their borough about 65% of the time.26
A significant number of children are separated from at least one of their siblings when
placed in care although the law requires that siblings be placed together whenever possible.27 A
review of children who entered foster care in 1999 found that about one-quarter were not placed
with any of their siblings.28 OCFS found that although siblings placed apart are entitled to
biweekly visits, fewer than 25% of those placed separately had biweekly visitation with their
siblings during the six month period reviewed.29
In addition, most children do not have required visits with their parents, even when
ACS’s stated goal for the child is to eventually return home. Of cases reviewed by OCFS of
children in foster care in 1999 with a permanency planning goal of “discharge to parent”, only
29% had the required minimum biweekly visitation with their parents.30 These statistics are
especially disturbing because it is well-established that regular and frequent visits between
parent and child are the best way to ensure successful family reunification.31
See New York State Family Court Act (F.C.A.) §1027-a.
The Marisol Panel, Final Report (December 7, 2000).
OCFS, Case Record Review 2, supra note 12 at 211.
Id at 212.
Beyer, M., Too Little, Too Late: Designing Family Support to Succeed, 22 N.Y.U. REV. L. & SOC.
CHANGE 311, 336 (1996). See also Nisivoccia, D. (1993) “Caseworkers’ values and attitudes in relation to their
activity with biological parents.” The Jewish Social Work Forum, 29:32. (There is a “strong association between
frequency of parental visiting and discharge of child,” as well as a link between parental visiting and “amount of
casework activity invested in a case.”). It should be noted that ACS is making efforts to improve parent-child
Finally, many children in foster care have their education significantly disrupted. One
recent study found that over 75% of the young people surveyed did not remain in their school
once placed in foster care.32 In almost half of the cases reviewed in the study, children were kept
out of school for weeks because of lost or misplaced school records.33 In their own analysis,
ACS found that children in close to half of the cases reviewed had to change schools when
placed in foster care.34 While the majority of children placed in foster care did not miss any
school due to these transfers, there were some children “who were absent for long periods of
time, ranging from four months to almost two years [emphasis added].”35
The Foster Care System is Failing A Significant Number of Adolescents
Too many young New Yorkers are leaving the foster care system only to enter homeless
shelters or jails. According to research by the Vera Institute of Justice, approximately 15% of all
youth admitted to Department of Juvenile Justice facilities are in foster care at the time of
admission.36 In 1999, 34% of the youth sheltered by New York City’s Covenant House had a
32 Advocates for Children, Educational Neglect: The Delivery of Educational Services to Children in New
York City’s Foster Care System (July 2000).
ACS, Reform Plan Indicators, supra note 6 at 52-53.
Armstrong, M.L., “Adolescent Pathways: Exploring the Intersections Between Child Welfare and
Juvenile Justice, PINS and Mental Health,” at 18. Vera Institute of Justice: New York City (May 1998).
history of foster care placement.37 A study of 10 foster care agencies in 2000 found that 17% of
adolescents in those agencies were discharged to a shelter.38
The 15,061 adolescents in foster care today39 are not being provided with the tools
necessary to become successful members of their communities once they leave the system. Less
than half of the adolescents who will be discharged from foster care to “independent living”40
receive the statutorily required training and instruction.41 In 65% of the cases reviewed by the
State where children were required to be notified of the availability of family planning services
(those aged 12 and older), no such notice was given. 42
Systemic failings in dealing with troubled adolescents are vividly demonstrated in the
review of three of the fatalities involving children in foster care at the time of death. These
adolescents -- all of whom appear to be victims of random acts of violence -- did not get the
services they required, with tragic results.
Covenant House, Testimony, “Implementation of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999" (August
2000). Each year, nearly 700 young people “age out” of foster care, and one-third become homeless. Covenant
House, “Case File Review Summary,” (1996-1999).
Citizens Committee for Children, Can They Make It on Their Own? Aging Out of Foster Care - A
Report on New York City’s Independent Living Program, at 5 (2000). This is despite that fact that the law prohibits
discharging a child to independent living unless the child has a residence “other than a shelter for adults, shelter for
families, single-room occupancy hotel or any other congregate living arrangement which houses more than 10
unrelated persons ...” 18 NYCRR §430.12(C)(3)(i)(c).
39 This is children aged 10 to 21. There are 7,927 children aged 10-14 in foster care, and 7,134 children
aged 15 and older. Telephone conversation with a staff member in the ACS Office of Management Development
and Research (March 24, 2001).
This means the child will not be adopted and will not be discharged to an adult resource.
OCFS, Case Record Review 2, supra note 12 at 149.
Id at 88.
Case Example 543
A 17-year-old girl was found murdered in the stairwell of an apartment building after
being reported missing 16 days earlier. She had been in foster care 11 years at the time of her
death, during which time she was in at least seven different placements. She had a history of
running away for months at a time, and was arrested twice while in care. She also gave birth to
two children while in foster care, both of whom ended up in placement themselves. Although the
child had exhibited destructive behavior as early as 1997, no efforts were made to identify a
placement that could provide a higher level of care until at least a year later. By the time ACS
began to seek a long-term, out-of-state placement with specialized services for troubled youth,
no programs would take her due to her long history of running away and her criminal activity.
Case Example 644
A 16-year-old girl was murdered -- possibly in a gang related incident -- while on an
approved visit to her mother. The child, however, had stayed at her mother’s home longer than
she was authorized to, and the foster mother failed to notify the agency of the child’s
whereabouts. The police believe that while the child’s mother was at work, she was visited by a
young man with whom she was friendly. When she returned from work, the child’s mother found
her strangled in the kitchen, gang writing covering the walls. The child had been in care for
three years at the time of her death, during which she was placed in five different homes. She
OCFS Fatality Report No. 97-00-013 (February 22, 2001).
OCFS Fatality Report No. 97-00-004 (August 9, 2000).
ran away from her second foster home for eight months, during which time she became
Case Example 745
A 16-year-old boy was shot on the street, possibly related to the fact that the child had
given police information on another homicide. In care since 1994, the child was in 10 different
placements -- several foster homes, a diagnostic center, and two residential treatment centers -and arrested three times, once for armed robbery. He was performing poorly in school,
breaking curfew, and truant. At one point the child was returned to his mother, but he was
returned to foster care after assaulting her and running away. During his placement, the child’s
permanency planning goal changed four times between return to his mother and independent
living, primarily because the child reported that his mother was too strict and he did not want to
live with her. Shortly before his death, a judge ordered that the child be returned to his mother,
even though she insisted that she could not control the boy and believed he required a higher
level of care.
The Workforce Crisis in Foster Care Agencies May Be a Major Cause of the Deficiencies in
Foster Care Services
A C-PLAN survey of foster care agencies found that the single biggest problem they
believe they face is a workforce crisis.46 One foster care agency executive summarized the
OCFS Fatality Report No. 97-00-016 (February 9, 2001).
46 Of 19 “C-PLAN ASFA Surveys” completed in December 2000, 79% indicated that caseworker turnover
is the biggest barrier to achieving timely permanence for children.
problem: “We need more money to pay additional workers so we can reduce caseload size (with
the increased work requirements, staff CANNOT do it all with high numbers of children). We
also need to increase salaries so that workers stay longer and so we can give raises over time.”47
Inadequate training and supervision, poor work environments, high caseloads and low
pay lead to high turnover among caseworkers. Among voluntary foster care agencies,
caseworker turnover rates have reached 40%.48 OCFS recently reported finding that 53% of
children in foster care had two or more caseworkers during the one year review period, and 15%
had three or more caseworkers.49 Agencies are often losing staff to ACS, which pays up to
$10,000 more annually for casework positions than do voluntary agencies.
Caseworker turnover not only jeopardizes child safety, but it can be a serious impediment
to achieving timely permanency.
Case Example 8
A single father contacted C-PLAN because he needed help obtaining a larger apartment
and counseling services in order to get his six children returned from foster care. The client had
three caseworkers during an eight-month period, none of whom remained on the case long
enough to refer him to the appropriate services.
C-PLAN ASFA Survey (December 2000).
The Marisol Panel, Advisory Report on Frontline and Supervisory Practice, at 22 (March 9, 2000). See
also Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), “Comments on Legislative and Budget Proposals,”
This is an increase of 10% from 1997. OCFS, Case Record Review 2, supra note 12 at 75.
Given the Risk to Children in Foster Care, Child Welfare Officials Need to Act with Care
Before Removing Children from Their Parents
Some children must be removed from their families to ensure their safety. In other
cases, helping families address the problems at home is the better, safer choice. All experts
agree that the sine qua non is a careful weighing of the options based on the best available
information about the family circumstances. As ACS Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta has
said, “[I]f we had more information at the earlier stages ... we might [be] able to make better
decisions in the first few days and not put the child through the [foster care] system.”50
Nationally about 16% of reports of child maltreatment that are substantiated after
investigation result in removal. 51 New York City, however, removes children in about 28% of
substantiated cases.52 But nearly one-quarter of the New York City children removed and
placed in foster care are subsequently returned home within three months.53 An executive staff
member from a large foster care agency reported to C-PLAN that of approximately 30 children
who enter his foster care program every month, about half return to their families within 60 days.
He stated that he believed most of those were children who did not need to be removed from
Child Welfare Watch, “On Family Court: ACS Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta,” (Winter 1999, No.
51 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Maltreatment, 1998: Reports from States to the
National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (2000).
There were approximately 50,000 reports of child maltreatment in New York City last year, representing
about 80,000 children. About 36% of these cases were substantiated. Approximately 10,000 children were admitted
into foster care last year -- about 85% as a result of abuse or neglect allegations. Thus, 30% of substantiated cases
result in removals. ACS, Reform Plan Indicators, supra note 6 at 15. This information was confirmed and updated
in a telephone conversation on March 20, 2001with a staff member in the ACS office of Management Development
ACS, Reform Plan Indicators, supra note 6 at 15.
Case Example 9
C-PLAN was contacted by a mother of eight children, ages two through thirteen. Her
children had all been removed due to allegations of educational neglect because she was home
schooling the nine-year-old. All of her other school-aged children were attending school. Her
children were returned to her care a year later. Letters from therapists working with the family
after the children were returned indicated that the mother was caring and supportive of her
children, providing them with a stable home and good values, and that the children were
appropriately cared for and provided with a healthy family support system. One therapist noted
that the children did express some anxieties -- primarily about being removed again from their
mother’s care. Unfortunately, what they feared most happened again. After the children had
been returned home, allegations of substance abuse were made. The mother complied with
several random drug tests, all of which were negative. The foster care agency caseworker who
was still working with the family found no evidence of substance abuse during home visits or
interviews with the mother or children and shared with C-PLAN that she believed the allegations
were false. Shortly thereafter, the school reported that three of the children had missed
“several” days of school. ACS removed all eight children -- three of whom were not even
school-aged. The foster care agency caseworker shared with C-PLAN that she believed that the
mother was a “very warm lady” who had “raised beautiful children,” and that the situation was
Recommendations for Continued Reform
A. The Quality of Foster Care Services Must be Significantly Improved
ACS should require a minimum amount of one-on-one contact between a MastersDegree-level caseworker and all children in foster care. While the law already requires a
minimum amount of contact between children in care and caseworkers,54 there is evidence that
such contact is not being made in most cases. This must be made a priority, especially where the
child has medical or psychological problems. Regular and meaningful contact with Masterslevel social workers is just another layer of protection for children in foster care.
In addition, this contact must occasionally be made outside the presence of foster
caretakers. This will allow ACS and foster care agencies to get feedback about the quality of the
care the children are receiving. These interviews must not only be part of ongoing quality
assurance efforts, but should be factored into the evaluation of contract agencies.
ACS must continue to work aggressively to increase the number of children placed in
their communities when removed from their families. The establishment of the Office of Parent
Recruitment and Expedited Permanency (PREP)55 is a good step towards building on
neighborhood-based service delivery through the recruitment of foster parents in high-need
Voluntary foster care agencies’ failure to provide for the legally required sibling and
parent contact, as well as the medical and educational needs of children, is unacceptable. The
establishment of medical management services units to ensure that foster care agencies comply
18 NYCRR §441.21(d).
Scoppetta, “Prepared Testimony,” supra note 2.
with health care standards are encouraging. Ultimately, however, it is ACS that is responsible
for the care children receive in foster care. As long as they are going to continue delegating that
responsibility in over 80% of their cases, serious quality assurance protocols must be established.
B. Voluntary Agencies Must Have Adequate Resources to Ensure That Foster
Care Caseworkers Stay on the Job Long Enough to Provide Quality Care
Foster care agencies must have sufficient numbers of clinically-trained staff with
advanced degrees who can provide high quality supervision and training of caseworkers. As
ACS takes laudatory steps to raise the standards of their casework staff -- such as hiring more
Masters-level social workers and providing incentives for work towards a Masters degree -voluntary agencies need access to resources that will allow them to pursue the same high level of
qualifications which ACS is seeking.
The work of caseworkers is invaluable -- they are charged with protecting the City’s most
vulnerable population -- and their work environment must reflect their importance. Recruitment
and retention become much easier when people feel valued for the work they do and are
provided with the basics to complete the tasks at hand -- working computers, voice mail, and
adequate and clean office space. Just as ACS has taken steps to make capital improvements in
the workplace, foster care agencies must be able to bring their practice into the 21st Century.
C. A Major Initiative Focused on the Needs of Adolescents in Care Should Be
It is clear that we are not meeting the varied and complex needs of adolescents in foster
care, which include mental health services, special education, vocational training, family
planning services and access to higher education. Adolescents must be made partners in their
care in order to ensure that they are discharged from foster care with the tools to be successful
members of their communities. The continuum of care for adolescents must be strengthened to
include effective case management, mentoring, discharge planning and aftercare services.
In 1998, the Public Advocate called for the creation of a task force of representatives
from State and City agencies responsible for providing services to adolescents -- including the
State Office of Mental Health (OMH), OCFS, the City Department of Mental Health (DMH), the
City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), and the City Department of Juvenile Justice -- to
respond to the service crisis for this population. The Public Advocate recommended that the
task force work to come up with solutions to create safe and appropriate placements for
adolescents.56 To our knowledge, no such task force has been created. In the three years since
that recommendation was made, little has improved for adolescents who currently make up
nearly half of the foster care population. Again, we call upon State and City agencies to come
together to work on this important issue.
D. ACS Must Re-Evaluate Its Approach to Child Protective Services
Clearly there are cases where a child must be removed from her family in order to be
protected. But a growing number of states are piloting or implementing alternative models of
child protective service delivery that are more effective than current models in making children
safe and, where appropriate, strengthening families.
Mark Green, Public Advocate for the City of New York, The Child Welfare Scorecard (April 1998).
Thirteen states are experimenting with a “dual-track” system, where traditional child
protective investigations are conducted only in cases involving allegations of physical abuse and
severe neglect. All other cases are put on a “family assessment” track, which focuses on
understanding family circumstances, referring families for services and connecting the families
with resources within the community.57
The “dual track” model allows child welfare officials to focus attention and resources on
cases involving the most serious threats to a child’s health and safety. At the same time, children
in problematic -- yet less dangerous -- situations can have their issues addressed faster, with
more cooperation from families, quicker service delivery, more through investigations, and
families more satisfied with interventions.58
Another significant result of this model is that families are “approached broadly” -- not
just with reference to the particular incident that brought the family to the agency’s attention.
This approach prevents the “rolling iceberg,” where different aspects of family problems get
noticed at different times and are observed in isolation. With the family assessment model,
issues below the surface are unearthed and addressed, instead of being left to fester, resulting in
recidivism, or even worse, the death of a child.59
The State of Missouri, beginning in 1994, successfully piloted and evaluated this model and has
implemented it throughout the State. See Institute for Applied Research, Missouri Child Protection Services Family
Assessment and Response Demonstration: Impact Evaluation (1998).
Id. A comprehensive evaluation of the Missouri project found that child safety was not compromised;
families received necessary services within 17 days of the first incident, compared with 34 days in counties using the
traditional investigative model; families, professionals and community members viewed the child welfare agency
more positively, resulting in a decrease in reports to the State child abuse hotline; recidivism was reduced; and the
percent of reported incidents in which some services were provided increased. Institute of Applied Research, “Child
Protection Services Family Assessment and Response Demonstration: Impact Evaluation and Final Report,”
Id at 214.
OCFS “is currently examining the option of a dual-track system which gives CPS [child
protective services] agencies the flexibility to respond to less serious cases of child neglect with
an assessment of family needs and the provision of services, while continuing to respond to
cases of child abuse and severe neglect with the requisite CPS investigation.”60 Such flexibility,
if provided in conjunction with quality training, has the potential to allow CPS workers to begin
to see themselves as change agents who can help make a difference in the lives of children and
Promising changes in New York City’s child welfare system have only just begun, and
troublesome new challenges are on the horizon. Absent a significantly improved assessment
system and a solution to the foster care agency workforce problems, the safety of children in
foster care will continue to be jeopardized and families will not receive the services they need.
ACS’ gains risk being lost if we do not heed the warning signs of trouble. We must
strive for children to be safe, not only in their own homes, but in foster care when placement
away from families is necessary. We must aim to have a system where caseworkers stay on the
job long enough to ensure the provision of quality services and care. And where we intervene in
the lives of families, we must leave them in a better place then we found them.
OCFS, Establishing an Operational Framework (1998).