Wednesday, August 23, 2017

NYC child welfare officials can’t get their story straight

Still another ACS official makes still another claim about the New York City foster-care panic

 Before anyone reads this, I recommend checking out this brilliant op-ed column in The New York Times by Emma Ketteringham of the Bronx Defenders. 

In the previous post to this blog I discussed the resurrection of an odious racial stereotype in a column in the Chronicle of Social Change. [UPDATE: To its credit, the Chronicle ultimately apologized and deleted the column.] The stereotype appears in a column by the Chronicle’s “Blogger of the Year,” Marie Cohen, in which she complains about the New York Times story on foster care as the new “Jane Crow.”

But Cohen’s column did serve one useful purpose.  It brings us still another official from the New York City child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, contradicting claims made by his colleagues concerning the extent of the foster-care panic in New York – the sharp spike in removals that tends to follow high-profile tragedies.

ACS Commissioner David Hansell told WNYC Public Radio there had been no increase at all.  A deputy, Andrew White, contradicted him, claiming that removals had increased, but only at about the same rate as the increase in reports passed on from the state child abuse hotline for investigation. The Center for New York City Affairs said both had increased by about 20 percent.

But now Cohen tells us she was told by ACS that “ACS investigated 27,549 allegations of maltreatment in the first five months of 2017, 2,000 more than in the first five months of 2016” – that would be an increase of less than eight percent – while removals increased 20 percent.

Cohen makes other claims about ACS data that are wrong, however.

She misreads the data when she suggests that ACS is responding with more use of family preservation.  There has, indeed, been a sharp increase in cases under “court supervision.”  But that does not mean ACS is providing more help – only that the “help” is being provided with more surveillance and more hoops to jump through.  As the Center for New York City Affairs explains in its report, that’s actually led to less help for families.

Cohen is correct in noting that the rate at which children are removed from their homes is lower in New York City than most places – though not all. Chicago is lower, and independent court-appointed  monitors have found that the reforms which reduced foster care in the state-run Illinois system improved child safety.

Child safety also improved in New York City as the number of children taken away each year declined.

But, as Cohen is quick to point out, there are still horror stories, such as the death of Zymere Perkins. They have the same kinds of horror stories in all those places that take away, proportionately, far more children.  (That means, of course, that the very real problems exposed by the Times are probably far worse almost everywhere else in America.)

Perhaps if caseworkers spend less time harassing parents such as those profiled by the Times they’ll find the next Zymere Perkins before it’s too late.