The Long Road Home: A Study of Children Stranded in New York City Foster Care
Recommendations for Reform
Improve the Family Court Process and Accountability
1. The New York State Office of Court Administration should develop and issue periodic public reports on key measures of the permanency process in the New York City Family Court. These reports should provide data including but not limited to the Family Court’s timeliness in completing abuse and neglect proceedings, Permanency Hearings, and TPR proceedings; the frequency and reasons for adjournments of Court hearings; and the caseloads of judges and referees.
2. The New York City Family Court should use the power that it already has to hold all of the parties in child welfare matters accountable. The Court should use all available tools, including court orders and sanctions, to ensure that the parties are present, prepared, and ready to proceed at hearings, and to ensure that ACS and the foster care agencies provide appropriate services to children and families.
3. The New York State Legislature and the Governor should authorize and fund additional judgeships for the Family Court.
4. The New York State Legislature and the Governor should enact mandated time frames for completing Article 10 and TPR proceedings.
5. The New York City Family Court should fully implement time-certain hearings, continuous trials, and court conferencing in order to reduce delays in all court proceedings. These strategies have already been identified as components of the Family Court’s Child Protective Initiative, the progress of which should be closely tracked and monitored.
6. The Criminal Justice Coordinator should explore the further expansion of parent legal representation by organizations that have the capacity to provide social work and parent advocate assistance to parents.
Improve Foster Care Casework Accountability
7. ACS should develop and issue periodic public reports on key measures of the permanency process as it pertains to the work of ACS and the foster care agencies. These reports should include data regarding but not limited to:
- the numbers of children in foster care with each permanency goal, and their ages, races/ethnicities, lengths of stay in foster care, and lengths of time with their current permanency goal;
- the frequency of caseworker contacts with children and parents;
- the frequency of visits between children in foster care and their parents;
- the participation of families in team meetings;
- the status of service provision for children and families;
- the timeliness of the filing of termination of parental rights petitions and the existence of “compelling reasons” when petitions are not filed; and
- the proportion of children placed in pre-adoptive homes.
ACS, working with the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), should also develop the capacity to report on key workforce measures, including worker educational background and tenure, caseloads, turnover, and other key indicators.
8. ACS and the foster care agencies should immediately address the needs of many children who are at risk of leaving the foster care system without permanent families. Currently, there are 2,600 children with a goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA); for these children, efforts at reunification, adoption, or guardianship have failed. In addition, there are more than 4,000 children in the system who have had a goal of Return to Parent or Adoption for more than two years. Within the next 18 months, all 6,600 of these children should receive a special, intensive “SWAT team” review in order to identify barriers to permanency and to develop, implement, and monitor plans to achieve permanency for each child through family reunification, adoption, or legal guardianship. ACS and the foster care agencies will need to develop criteria to prioritize the order in which these cases will be reviewed. At the same time that ACS is taking steps to reduce this backlog of children languishing in foster care, it must also develop a mechanism for reviewing the cases of children who newly enter these categories, and take action as appropriate.
9. ACS must implement with rigor and consequences a quality assurance process to ensure that the foster care agencies are doing their part to achieve timely permanency outcomes for children and families. ACS’s “Scorecard” evaluates foster care agencies on various process and outcome measures, and scores agencies on their performance independently and as compared to other agencies’ and citywide performance. It is critical that ACS use this process to determine when agencies need assistance in meeting their goals and when it may be necessary to place agencies on corrective action plans or on probation; and agencies that prove unable to meet expectations must be closed.
Improve the Child Welfare Workforce and the Quality of Casework with Children and Families
10. The State and the City should provide adequate funding to lower caseloads citywide to 11-12 children per foster care caseworker, as previously recommended by a study commissioned by the Office of Children and Family Services. These caseload levels should be phased in over a period of three to five years.
11. In addition to lowering caseworker caseloads, other steps must be taken to improve supports for the child welfare workforce, reduce caseworker turnover, and improve the quality of casework and service coordination.
- The State and City should develop and implement a “workforce improvement plan” that addresses the recruitment, retention, training, and supervision of private agency foster care workers citywide. ACS and OCFS should develop this in partnership with COFCCA and the foster care agencies, and provide adequate support to enable the agencies to implement the plan.
- The State and the City should work together to take full advantage of newly available federal Title IV-E training funds for the training of private agency staff. ACS, COFCCA, and the foster care agencies, with support from OCFS, should work together to develop and implement uniform pre-service and in-service training for foster care workers across the City. Specialized training and intensive supervision should be provided to foster care agency staff citywide to address the serious case practice deficiencies identified in The Long Road Home.
Improve Supports and Services for Children and Families
12. ACS and the foster care agencies should develop and implement a plan to substantially increase the frequency of visits between children in foster care and their families.
13. Clinical staff positions should be created in the foster care agencies to provide consultation, assessments, and service linkages in cases involving parents with serious mental illness and/or cognitive disabilities.
14. ACS should work with the foster care agencies to ensure that they have sufficient capacity to recruit foster and adoptive homes. ACS should ensure that children for whom reunification, relative guardianship, or adoption by current resource parents is not viable are referred to agencies that have the capacity to recruit adoptive homes for them.
15. The Bridges to Health (B2H) program should be expanded. This important program provides supportive services for children in foster care who have serious medical, developmental, or emotional disorders. Importantly, these services can remain with the child when they exit foster care to reunification, adoption, or other settings. There are currently 720 B2H slots available for children in New York City. However, it has been estimated that several thousand children in the New York City foster care system may be eligible for these critical services, which can stabilize children so that they can return home, or achieve permanency through adoption or legal guardianship.
16. ACS should work with the City’s housing agencies to expand access to housing assistance for families.
17. The State and the City should maintain and increase their commitment to providing high-quality Preventive Services to keep children safe at home and prevent them from entering foster care in the first place. After many years with no mechanism in place for the evaluation of Preventive Services, ACS now has a Preventive “Scorecard,” which must be implemented with rigor to ensure that the City is using its Preventive Services funds on programs that are most effective in ensuring that children are safe and families are receiving the services they need.
Establish a New Permanency Option
18. The New York State Legislature and the Governor should enact and adequately fund subsidized guardianship. New York is far behind the curve in not having subsidized guardianship as a permanency option for children in foster care. Many other states have subsidized guardianship programs and, recently, federal funds were made available to states for this purpose through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. Subsidized guardianship is an appropriate option when children who have been abused and neglected cannot return home, adoption is not an option, and ongoing services to the family are no longer needed. It must be carefully implemented to ensure that it is not used in cases in which children could return home if appropriate services were provided, or if they could be adopted.
This program should not be funded through the State’s foster care block grant. Subsidized guardianship is an alternative to adoption, not to foster care. Currently, the non-federal share of adoption subsidies in New York is split 75 percent state / 25 percent city. In order to incentivize adoption over subsidized guardianship, the State should implement a 65 percent state / 35 percent city split, as has been proposed by the Citizens Committee for Children.