Children Are Not Doing Better in New York City Child Welfare System, Despite Ten Years of Reform Efforts

NEW YORK, NY — Outcomes for children and families in New York City’s child welfare system have not significantly improved, despite reform efforts over the last decade, a new study shows. Released today by the national watchdog group Children’s Rights, the report examines ten years of data, including the most recent data available, and concludes that, despite improvements in infrastructure and certain aspects of case practice, problems with ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing and moving them quickly into permanent homes persist, and have even worsened in some areas.

“Our analysis shows that outcomes have not improved for children and their families in New York City and, in some cases, are getting worse,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “The poor outcomes that have persisted for tens of thousands of children in New York City for at least ten years constitute a crisis and demand immediate and focused attention from the city, the state and the Family Court.”

The report, entitled At the Crossroads–Better Infrastructure, Too Few Results: A Decade of Child Welfare Reform in New York City examines the performance of New York City’s child welfare system over the past ten years in five key areas: child protective services, preventive services, foster care, the Family Court, and child fatalities. Key findings show that:

  • An increasing proportion of children known to the child welfare system are being repeatedly abused and neglected. The percentage of children who were abused or neglected and then abused or neglected again within a year grew from 9.3% in 2000/2001 to 14.8% in 2005/2006. The report states that this finding raises questions about decision-making during investigations, determinations regarding the need for services, including foster care placement, and the quality of both preventive and foster care services, when they are provided.
  • There has been a significant reduction in the number of abused and neglected children that New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) deems should be placed in foster care, from 36 out of every 100 children in 1999 to 14 out of every 100 children in 2005. The report notes that there is no magic formula in terms of how many abused and neglected children should be left at home and how many should be brought into foster care, and that decisions about placement of children in foster care should be made individually, based on good clinical judgment.
  • As the number of children in foster care has dropped, there has not been a commensurate increase in the provision of preventive services to children at home with their families. The number of children in foster care on any given day declined dramatically, from 38,000 in 1999 to 17,000 in 2006, while the numbers of children receiving preventive services increased only slightly, from about 25,000 to about 27,000.
  • More children in foster care are bouncing from placement to placement. The proportion of children who moved from one foster care placement to another at least once during a one-year period increased from 21% in 2001 to 31% in 2006.
  • A growing proportion of children in foster care are placed in facilities, rather than family foster homes. The percentage of children living in facilities grew from 12 in 1999 to 18 in 2006.
  • Children in NYC stay in foster care longer than almost anywhere else in the country. Since 1999, the average length of stay for a child in foster care in NYC has been greater than 45 months. Nationally, the average length of stay is 29 months.
  • Foster care worker caseloads in New York City currently average 22 to 24 children per worker–double the national standard–and foster care worker turnover rates are 40% annually.

The report does show that improvements have been made in the following areas:

  • Increased timeliness of abuse and neglect investigations;
  • Fewer cases of confirmed child abuse and neglect closed without providing any services to the family; and
  • Frequency of visits between children in foster care and their parents.

“The child welfare system’s infrastructure is much improved since ten years ago, but children at home or in foster care are not yet safer and those in care are staying for too long,” said Julie Farber, director of policy at Children’s Rights. “We hope our analysis helps focus and propel the reform efforts.”

The report notes that ACS Commissioner John Mattingly brings a wealth of valuable child welfare experience and expertise to New York City and that several ambitious reform efforts have been initiated during his tenure. Children’s Rights calls for intensive monitoring of these efforts to measure whether they in fact improve results for children and families.

In 1995, Children’s Rights filed a class action lawsuit against the New York City and State child welfare systems, on behalf of more than 100,000 children. Historic settlements were reached in 1999, mandating the creation of an Advisory Panel of experts to aid in the implementation of court-ordered reforms. At the Crossroads is the first comprehensive analysis of the New York City child welfare system since the Advisory Panel’s 2002 review.

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