A panel appointed by Federal District Court judge Robert J. Ward to advise the Administration for Children's Services issued a report in October recommending that the City tighten its supervision of private child welfare agencies. Judge Ward established the panel as part of a 1998 settlement of Marisol v. Guiliani, a class action suit that sought a major overhaul of the City's foster care system. Foster care for most of the 37,000 children in the system is provided by 60 private agencies under contract to the City. The Marisol panel contends in its new report that private agencies do not clearly understand what the City expects of them. "What happens to kids in care depends, to a large extent, on how well the City selects, oversees and supports these agencies," said Douglas W. Nelson, head of the panel and president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is based in Baltimore. While praising the current management team at Administration for Children's Services, Nelson said City oversight needs improvement . "Right now, the tools used to asses private agencies do not sufficiently reinforce quality practice, family involvement, neighborhood-based services or permanence - all things ACS sincerely and correctly want to promote."
Farber Sounds Off:
Until this decade, the City renewed its contracts with foster care agencies without regard to agency performance. It has taken several significant steps towards holding the 60 foster care providers accountable, but has fumbled its attempts to make its new accountability system meaningful. The City rates contract agencies on how often they file case records on time, for instance, but not on whether they work effectively with the parents of foster children. The Marisol panel is right on target when it urges the Administration for Children's Services to judge the performance of those practices it values most.
Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.