Last week, the New York City Administration For Children’s Services (ACS) announced it will be changing and expanding its programs for preventive services throughout all boroughs — the first major restructuring the agency has had in a decade. Service organizations across the city will be awarded a total of $221 million in funding to implement these new programs in their communities.
Preventive services have significantly reduced the number of children who end up in the city’s foster care system. Today, there are approximately 8,000 children in the foster care system which is a 50 percent reduction compared to a decade ago, data from the ACS shows.
According to Dr. Jacqueline Martin, the Deputy Commissioner of the Preventive Services Division at the ACS, when it comes to child welfare, preventive programs are key to helping families in need to stabilize and keep their children out of the system.
“What these services are meant to do is prevent a more intrusive intervention into the family’s life,” Dr. Martin told Bklyner. “We have invested in them over the years significantly to ensure that we’ve got the right models, the right types of services… that meets the family’s needs.”
The preventive programs range from parent coaching to trauma therapy for children, all provided within the comforts of the family’s own home. This year, the ACS’ preventive services will include new service programs to better serve families through universal access to 10 different intervention models regardless of district or zip code.
The systemic restructuring is based on three components: increasing universal service access for families, requiring the family’s input and decision, and adding more therapeutic and treatment services.
ACS’ focus on these three components was the result of its first-ever annual “Family Experience Survey” in 2018, result of legislation introduced by Councilmember Stephen Levin. The families and social workers working with the ACS’ preventive services were queried on the current programs, and how they could be improved. Roughly 86% of client families who were surveyed said prevention services helped them reach their goal.
“What they really said, in essence, was ‘we want more voice and choice in the services that are offered to us’,” Dr. Martin said. As a result, agencies and nonprofits contracted with the ACS’ preventive services will be required to engage families in their service planning and improvement from here on out.
In Brooklyn, the addition of new preventive services under ACS will serve about 6,000 families every year through 35 sites and/or programs in the borough. Over half of those preventive programs will be in the category of therapeutic and treatment interventions to serve the borough’s higher-need families. The agency has awarded $65 million in funding to Brooklyn-based nonprofits to kick off these new programs.
Contracts for these new city-funded programs vary in length but generally last up to 10 years, with two three-year renewal periods and are set to take effect in July 2020.
In addition to the expansion of preventive services, the agency has also worked to address other factors that could contribute to the neglect of a child or family in need.
Last year, Commissioner David Hansell told PIX11 News the ACS has cut case workloads by half, dropping from an average of 14.8 case files to 7.2 case files per employee, since 2016.
“We’ve added about 1,100 child care specialists,” Commissioner Hansell said. “They truly are our ‘first responders’ when children are in danger.’”
The push for expansive universally-accessible preventive services under the agency marks a significant component of the agency’s commitment to improving its due diligence after the 2016 death of six-year-old Zymere Perkins, who was beaten and hanged to death by his mother’s boyfriend. It was reported the agency had opened investigations into Perkins’ family five times, none of which resulted in the child’s removal.
A probe into the case led to the firing of three ACS employees and a state order for an independent monitor during investigations into Perkins’ death. It also resulted in the resignation of then-Commissioner Gladys Carrion, leading to a major overhaul since led by the agency’s new head, David Hansell.
Currently, ACS prevention programs serve over 24,000 children in more than 10,000 families across New York City.