Friday, August 11, 2017

NYC child welfare chief’s claims about entries into foster care are contradicted by his agency’s own data

David Hansell
See the update at the end of this post for a brief response from an ACS deputy commissioner - and a somewhat longer reply from NCCPR.

The deputy commissioner's own tweet makes clear there is no longer any dispute over WHETHER the number of children torn from their parents in New York City is increasing, only over the size of that increase.

I would like to think that the Commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, David Hansell, was simply misled by his own staff. But for whatever reason, he made a claim on WNYC Public Radio’s Brian Lehrer Show today that is contradicted by data made public by ACS itself.

Hansell sought to refute data presented in both The New York Times and The New Yorker showing that the number of children torn from their parents in New York City soared after the death of Zymere Perkins – a classic foster-care panic.

Hansell claimed that, in spite of an increase in reports alleging child abuse (as almost always happens after a high profile tragedy), there had been no increase in the number of children placed in foster care.

But statistics provided by ACS itself show that, contrary to Hansell’s claim, entries into foster care have soared in the wake of the death of Zymere Perkins, just as The New Yorker and The New York Times reported.  Have a look at page 9 of ACS’ “Monthly Flash Indicators” report for June, 2017.

That report shows that the number of children taken from their parents in May 2017 was double the number in May 2016.  On the same page of the same report for July, 2017, the data show that in June 2017, the number of children removed was 50 percent higher than June 2016.

So not only are entries increasing, they are increasing at a significantly higher rate than reports alleging child abuse or neglect. [ACS denies the increase is this high, see update below.]

Hansell also made some comments concerning confidentiality that are not entirely correct. He implied that ACS can never comment about a particular case. But New York State law allows Hansell to comment under many circumstances, including when a parent has come forward to tell her or his side of the story. Here’s the law.

We have more about how Hansell is UN-reforming ACS here

UPDATE, 9:30PM: 

Andrew White, ACS Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Planning, has sent out some tweets arguing that the figures under the heading “Children Removed” at the bottom of Page 9 of ACS’ reports, only represent some categories of removals. He implied that other categories are down.  But he offers no specific figures.

The closest he comes to an estimate of his own is a tweet in which he writes:

Accurate number is that placements in care are up about as much as investigations this year, but census down 22% since 2014.

There are a whole slew of problems with this response:

● Even assuming White is correct, he’s still contradicting his boss. Hansell said there has been no increase in removals.  If, in fact, removals are rising at the same rate as investigations then that’s probably an increase of about 20 percent. Indeed, that’s exactly the figure used by the Center for New York City affairs in its own recent report on ACS.

● White’s implication, of course, is that an increase in removals at the same rate as an increase in investigations is perfectly normal. It’s not.  Rather, during a foster-care panic the proportion of reports alleging maltreatment that are, to use the polite term, nonsense, is likely to increase. (I call it the Sandusky Rule and discuss it, and the evidence for it, in detail in this previous post.)

● The line about the “census” being down appears to be an attempt to change the subject. The term census usually is applied to the number of children in foster care on any given day – a “snapshot” of a particular point in time. That can be influenced by all sorts of factors other than a jurisdiction’s propensity for removing children in the first place.

The issue here is entries into care – the number of children taken away over the course of a month or a year. Indeed, if the snapshot number is going down even as entries are going up it may be a further indication of foster-care panic. ACS may be rushing to take away children, quickly realizing they made a mistake and then sending them home again – much the worse for the experience.

● And whether measuring entries or the “census” 2014 is an odd, arbitrary year to choose as a baseline. The issue is not what’s happened since 2014 but what’s happened since September 2016 – when Zymere Perkins died, setting off the foster-care panic.