Child Welfare Watchers to Mayor: Don't Screw Up Gains We Made
January 23rd, 2006

Commissioner John Mattingly has promised a massive review and possible transformation of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services in the wake of three recent child deaths, including the torture, starvation and beating of Nixzmary Brown. But a group of some of the most well-informed watchers of the system is supporting Mattingly and urging him to exercise caution when making changes.

More than five-dozen leaders — parents, practitioners, advocates, analysts, attorneys and others, including some who are usually extremely critical of the system — signed onto an open letter (sent out in an e-mail but not yet posted on the Web) to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.”[W]e state emphatically that the problems illuminated by these recent deaths are very different from the wholesale dysfunction of the early-to-mid 1990s. They demand a very different response,” the letter says. The group was organized by the Center for New York City Affairs and City Futures, Inc., which jointly produce the Child Welfare Watch newsletter.

Compared with systems in other large cities, New York has made strides over the past decade or so toward accountable, responsive, family-friendly policies — believe it or not. Some of the improvements, according to the letter: “implementing rigorous accountability systems and performance reviews internally and with its contractors; pursuing low investigative caseloads and adequate pay for frontline workers; providing investigators easier access to clinical expertise on mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse issues; strengthening and expanding essential community-based family support services; steering the foster care system toward better and more permanent homes for children; emphasizing greater respect for and responsiveness to parents, youth and foster parents; and much more.”

The letter says, “In child welfare policy, there is too often an overly politicized, whipsaw effect that results from the intense public scrutiny that follows a child’s death. This can force administrators into extreme shifts in direction based on simplistic or ill-informed analysis. Instead, changes in child welfare policies and services must be based on evidence and experience in the field.”

“The city’s response to these deaths and the crisis of public trust will have to build upon the reform efforts of the last several years. Any other approach would threaten to scuttle what is surely one of the most successful, influential system reform projects in urban government and one that all concerned recognize as far from completed,” the letter says.

By on January 23, 2006, 4:15 pm
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