What's the Matter with Staten Island?

Over the past two years, the north shore community of Staten Island had more children placed in foster care than any other community district in New York City, according to a Child Welfare Watch analysis of Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) data. In 2010, the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton, near the Staten Island ferry, had the unfortunate distinction of having more children placed in foster care than any other. In 2011, the district ranked second citywide.

The total number of children placed in foster care dropped sharply last year across the city, from more than 7,000 in 2010 to under 5,700 last year. There was a substantial decline in St. George and Stapleton as well, from 361 placements to 273. Nonetheless, the community district remains just below the top of the list.

What’s clear in the city’s 2010 data is that, when child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe abuse or neglect may have occurred, a child had a nearly one-third one-fourth chance of being placed in foster care. This is a rate higher than any other New York City neighborhood with substantial involvement in the child welfare system.

Citywide, just over 19 percent 15 percent of “indicated cases”— where investigators have determined sufficient reason to suspect child abuse or neglect—led to a child being placed in foster care. In the remaining cases, children remained with their families, often receiving services and supports such as parenting classes, child care or counseling.

High rates of isolation and poverty and a philosophy of protecting children by removing them from home all contribute to the frequent placements, according to many who work in child welfare here.

“I think everyone who works in Staten Island knows how overprotective the system is,” says Jody Bahar, an attorney who represents Staten Island parents in Family Court. “We’re going to take the kids. That’s what we do here.”

Others cite a lack of institutional supports for low-income residents. “You have very poor people, and the demographic is very depressed economically, and [it doesn’t have] services that other parts of Staten Island have,” says Ralph Porzio, also an attorney for parents and a former Family Court judge. Porzio adds that services such as subsidized daycare can have a positive snowball effect for families, with one service connecting them to other local resources and supports.

Indeed, there are several thousand young children in these neighborhoods who are eligible for but not receiving subsidized child care—but this is true in most of the city’s low-income communities.

Where the northern Staten Island community district stands out, however, is the high rate of abuse and neglect reporting, and the path taken by these cases once they are investigated. Some activists say that child protective staff are too aggressive in their decision to seek removal.

“It’s the philosophy and the thinking of the administration. You have some very pro-removal people in charge,” says Fola Campbell, executive director of the Staten Island Council of Child Abuse and Neglect. She says that the tendency to remove reflects the second-class status of the St. George and Stapleton  communities, which have many immigrants and families of color, within an otherwise conservative, largely white borough.

Whether it's for conscious or unconscious reasons, “ACS will take a harder-line stance on those people who are poor and those people who are of color,” says Porzio. As in the rest of the city, Staten Island Family Court usually goes along with ACS child protective investigators’ recommendations to remove children.

“You need someone who is not only going to be remarkably diligent, but remarkably strong of character to say that this is the recommendation from ACS and I’m going to go against it,” says Porzio.

The motives may not be bad, says attorney Jody Bahar. “It’s for altruistic reasons, I do believe that… [Child protective workers] want children to be in a home like their home would be.” Still, she says, “My view is that we take the child too quickly.”

In response to a request for comment, ACS said in a written statement: “It is our goal to keep families intact and advocate for a child’s removal only when we believe there to be imminent risk to the child’s life or health.”

 

UPDATE AND CORRECTION-JULY 6

Our  analysis of ACS data comparing indication rates and placement of children in foster care contained an error, although the overall analysis is accurate. Here are the correct numbers: Among city neighborhoods with the greatest number of children entering foster care in 2010, Staten Island's Community District 1 (the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton) tops the list in the percentage of children with indicated cases that are placed. When child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe a child may have been abused or neglected, that child had a 24 percent chance of being placed in foster care. Central Harlem came in a close second, with nearly 23 percent of children with indicated cases getting placed.

In Bushwick, by comparison, about one in 10 children with an indicated case is placed in foster care.

Our original analysis failed to account for the number of children placed into foster care for reasons other than abuse and neglect (such as children whose parents placed them in care voluntarily). The corrected data are below in Table 1, which lists the neighborhoods with a high number of placements.

The ACS uses a different method to measure the outcomes of child protective investigations that are indicated—that is, when the investigator believed there was reason to suspect abuse or neglect had taken place. Below, Table 2 shows the number of indicated investigations that led to a foster care placement of any child in the family, within two months of the conclusion of the investigation. Using this methodology, one placement can represent one or more children being placed from the same family. Central Harlem and Staten Island remain in the top three for the highest percentage of cases that result in placements.

Table 1: Percent of Children in Indicated Reports Placed in Foster Care

(Top 10 community districts plus Jamaica and Bushwick, and five boroughs)

 

Table 2: Indicated Investigations with Foster Care Placement, FY 2011

(Includes placements made within two months of conclusion of investigation)

CD

Foster Care Placement

Total Indicated Cases

BX1 - Mott Haven/Melrose

 74

11.6%

 640

BX2 - Hunts Point/Longwood

 70

16.7%

 418

BX3 - Morrisania/Crotona

 82

13.5%

 608

BX4 - Concourse/Highbridge

 108

14.5%

 747

BX5 - Fordham/University Heights

 96

13.4%

 714

BX6 - Belmont/East Tremont

 98

14.6%

 669

BX7 - Kingsbridge Hghts/Bedford

 72

12.7%

 567

BX8 - Riverdale/Fieldston

 18

11.9%

 151

BX9 - Parkchester/Soundview

 105

13.1%

 802

BX10 - Throgs Neck/Coop City

 23

9.5%

 242

BX11 - Morris Park/Bronxdale

 32

9.7%

 330

BX12 - Williamsbridge/Baychester

 86

14.5%

 595

BX - Unknown CD

 22

20.2%

 109

BX - Total

 886

13.4%

 6,592

BK1 - Williamsburg/Greenpoint

 33

10.3%

 320

BK2 - Fort Greene/Brooklyn Hts

 33

16.0%

 206

BK3 - Bedford Stuyvesant

 160

15.2%

 1,053

BK4 - Bushwick

 63

12.7%

 495

BK5 - East New York/Starrett City

 145

13.3%

 1,090

BK6 - Park Slope/Carroll Gardens

 18

11.4%

 158

BK7 -Sunset Park

 13

4.6%

 280

BK8 - Crown Heights North

 53

14.3%

 370

BK9 - Crown Heights South/Prospect

 33

13.1%

 252

BK10 - Bay Ridge/Dyker Hghts

 9

6.4%

 140

BK11 - Bensonhurst

 19

9.1%

 209

BK12 - Borough Park

 16

8.3%

 193

BK13 - Coney Island

 33

10.2%

 322

BK14 - Flatbush/Midwood

 27

6.8%

 397

BK15 - Sheepshead Bay

 9

4.5%

 201

BK16 - Brownsville

 138

17.8%

 775

BK17 - East Flatbush

 73

13.5%

 542

BK18 - Flatlands/Canarsie

 42

11.1%

 380

BK - Unknown CD

 51

22.0%

 232

BK - Total

 968

12.7%

 7,615

MN1 - Financial District

 3

13.6%

 22

MN2 - Greenwich Village/Soho

 -

0.0%

 15

MN3 - Lower East Side/Chinatown

 73

18.8%

 389

MN4 - Clinton/Chelsea

 21

21.0%

 100

MN5 - Midtown

 11

19.3%

 57

MN6 - Stuyvesant Town/Turtle Bay

 9

17.0%

 53

MN7 - Upper West Side

 29

13.6%

 213

MN8 - Upper East Side

 13

13.3%

 98

MN9 - Morningside Heights/Hamilton

 65

17.3%

 376

MN10 - Central Harlem

 98

18.9%

 519

MN11 - East Harlem

 127

18.6%

 683

MN12 - Washington Heights/Inwood

 54

12.6%

 428

MN - Unknown CD

 21

19.4%

 108

MN - Total

 524

17.1%

 3,061

QN1 - Astoria

 43

12.8%

 335

QN2 - Sunnyside/Woodside

 12

8.4%

 143

QN3 - Jackson Heights

 27

7.4%

 364

QN4 - Elmhurst/Corona

 18

5.1%

 351

QN5 - Ridgewood/Maspeth

 7

2.5%

 280

QN6 - Rego Park/Forest Hills

 1

1.9%

 54

QN7 - Flushing/Whitestone

 22

10.2%

 215

QN8 - Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest

 16

12.1%

 132

QN9 - Ozone Park/Woodhaven

 31

9.8%

 315

QN10 - South Ozone Park/Howard Beach

 22

10.7%

 205

QN11 - Bayside/Little Neck

 4

6.7%

 60

QN12 - Jamaica/Hollis

 96

12.0%

 799

QN13 - Queens Village

 53

13.5%

 394

QN14 - Rockaway/Broad Channel

 60

11.5%

 521

QN - Unknown CD

 18

18.9%

 95

QN - Total

 430

10.1%

 4,263

SI1 - Saint George/Stapleton

 118

18.2%

 650

SI2 - South Beach/Willowbrook

 22

13.5%

 163

SI3 - Tottenville/Great Kills

 17

11.3%

 151

SI - Unknown CD

 14

20.9%

 67

SI - Total

 171

16.6%

 1,030

NYC

 2,979

13.2%

 22,564

Source: ACS

 

 

 

A Clearer View of Bloomberg's 'Close to Home' Plan

It's been more than a year since Mayor Bloomberg announced that he wanted to pull New York City kids out of state-run juvenile justice facilities, sending them instead to a new system of programs and lockups controlled by the city. Until recently, details of the city's plan have been scarce: What would the city's system look like? Who would operate it? And how would it be better than the state-run system, with its decades of scandal and notoriously high rates of recidivism?

The details are now public, spelled out in a 100-page draft plan released earlier this month by the Administration for Children's Services (ACS). For larger context on the city's reform agenda, see our previous story here. What follows is a summary of critical details from the draft plan, which is open to public comment.

Under the existing system, the city has jurisdiction over children who've been arrested, while their court cases are pending. But after a child is sentenced to serve time, he or she is sent to the custody of the state government, which runs its own juvenile lockups and also oversees a network of residential campuses operated by nonprofit organizations, including some in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island that have historically cared for New York City foster children.

This year's state budget includes funding for the new approach, which will allow New York City to open its own facilities for kids who are sent by judges to so-called nonsecure, and limited secure, lockups. Those titles are misleading: The facilities are, in fact, secured by both staff and hardware, and kids are not allowed to leave on their own. Nonetheless, they generally house children who've committed less serious or fewer offenses than those placed in so-called secure, facilities, which are more restrictive and will continue to be operated by the state, at least for now.

The city wants to have new nonsecure residential centers up and running by September of this year. They will be run by nonprofit organizations, including those who have long experience with foster care residential treatment centers and others that have worked with juvenile delinquents sent to them by Family Court judges.

The city's first step is to submit a plan to the state's Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). The plan must incorporate public feedback; ACS will hold two public hearings in May, and is accepting comments on its plan by email at closetohome@acs.nyc.gov.

Following is a summary of key elements of the city's draft plan:

New lockups

In January, ACS invited nonprofit organizations to apply for contracts to operate new facilities, which will essentially look like locked group homes. The administration is now in the process of scoring proposals from several nonprofit groups, and officials say they will announce awards by or in May.

Some organizations seeking to participate already own residential campuses in suburban counties surrounding the city. Initially, the nonprofits ACS selects will be allowed to operate their programs as far as 25 miles outside of city lines. Within two years, however, they will have to relocate to sites within the five boroughs, so that kids can have closer contact with their families.

While the Close to Home plan says the city will work to avoid over-reliance on out-of-home placements,, there is no built-in assumption that the number of kids sent to nonsecure facilities will decline. ACS says it will contract for 300 beds, the same number as are now filled by New York City youth in the state's nonsecure lockups.

This number reflects a significant drop from six years ago, however, thanks to several city initiatives designed to divert young teens from lockups altogether: Since 2005, the total number of New York City young people sent to state-run and state-contracted facilities has gone down by close to two-thirds, from nearly 1,500 to 544 last year.

If the plan is approved, facilities will open on September 1, 2012. All city youth given new, nonsecure placements by Family Court judges will go directly to the city lockups. Between September and December, ACS caseworkers will work with the state to transfer youth already in state custody, either into the new city facilities or into city-run aftercare, programs, which provide support services to young people and their families after they return home.

What happens when they don't work

Under the current state system, a large number of young people fail, out of private, nonprofit-run facilities and are transferred into state-run lockups. Last year, nearly one-third of children placed in state-run, nonsecure lockups had arrived there from private programs. Since the city will not directly operate its own nonsecure facilities, the only option for kids who don't succeed in private programs in the new system will be a transfer to a more restrictive level of lockup.

In its draft Close to Home plan, the city says it hopes to minimize such failed placements, by creating specialized program slots for children with particular needs or behaviors, such as kids with severe emotional disturbances or fire-setting histories. The plan stipulates that ACS social workers will meet with young people and their families before they assign kids to a particular program. Program providers will be able to appeal decisions if the provider thinks an inappropriate match, was made by ACS.

Young people who are deemed to be in imminent danger of leaving without permission,, or who present as a threat to themselves or others, will be transferred immediately to one of the city's secure detention facilities (which currently hold children whose trials are in progress) until a longer-term decision is made.

Restraints and physical force

The city's nonsecure facility operators will be trained in a system called Safe Crisis Management,, which stipulates that program staff must attempt to de-escalate crisis situations without using force whenever possible, and always use the least intrusive or restrictive intervention necessary. Physical restraints are permitted only as a last resort.

This represents a departure from practices in the city's detention facilities, where staff used physical or mechanical restraints more than 1,000 times in the last three months of 2011, according to ACS's quarterly incident report, which it is required to publish under city law. Children in custody were injured as a result of these restraints 78 times during that period.

When providers at the new nonsecure lockups use restraints, they will be required to notify ACS within an hour of the incident, according to the Close to Home plan. ACS will factor the use of restraints into evaluations of provider agencies. ACS case managers will meet with children who've been restrained soon after the incident, and will report restraints to children's families.

Alternative programs

In the draft plan, the city describes a newly expanded continuum of services, for young people in the juvenile justice system, with new programs designed to keep kids out of placement facilities. Historically, New York City's rates of juvenile incarceration stayed high, in part, because Family Court judges didn't have alternative programs to send kids to when they got in trouble. Over the past several years, ACS and the city's Department of Probation have established several alternative to placement, programs, where kids get supervision and services while living at home.

Under Close to Home, the probation department will open three new alternative programs, adding 65 new slots. It will also run a tiered system of probation, so that judges can assign kids to varying levels of scrutiny, including daily check-ins, without removing them from their homes.

According to the Close to Home plan, ACS is currently soliciting more slots for a short-term foster care program designed to keep kids with violent offenses out of lockups. And it is gearing up to expand its system of aftercare programs, which aim to keep kids from committing new offenses.

Reducing bias

One of the Bloomberg administration's signature juvenile justice reforms was the development of a risk assessment instrument,, or RAI, which gauges a young person's likelihood of either re-offending or disappearing while his or her case is pending. After an arrest, based on certain characteristics, young people are scored low-, medium- or high-risk. For those on the low end, the Department of Probation recommends that judges let them stay home, rather than sending them to detention. In part as a result of this assessment tool, detention admissions went down by 18 percent between 2006 and 2011.

The probation department is now working with the Vera Institute of Justice to develop similar tools to take bias out of placement recommendations,which help judges decide whether a child will be sent to a diversion program or to a lockup, and what level of security that lockup should be. Standardizing the process assures that recommendations of placement are not based on the youth's treatment needs, attitudes or behavior while in court or with the probation officer, all of which are factors that can sometimes cause low-risk youth to receive more intensive services than are warranted,, according to the plan. Assessment tools also aim to minimize racial disparities in sentencing.

Oversight

In the process of arguing for this local system, officials have repeatedly said that keeping children close to their families and lawyers, and to the elected officials who represent them, will allow for greater oversight of juvenile lockups.

According to the Close to Home plan, ACS will monitor the nonprofits running facilities, both through its annual scoring process and through its team of case workers working directly with program providers to track kids' progress through the system.

ACS is in turn regulated by the state, which holds the power to grant licenses to the service-providing agencies that will run the lockups. ACS will be obliged to report serious incidents to the state, such as severe injuries to children or suspected child abuse, and the state has the ultimate authority to shut the city's placement system down.

The city publishes certain data tracking the outcomes of its current juvenile justice programs, such as re-arrest rates and average lengths of stay, in the annual Mayor's Management Report and ACS's monthly Flash indicators. Under a law passed by the City Council, ACS is also required to post a quarterly incident report documenting restraints and injuries to youth in detention centers, an annual demographic report and an annual report of child abuse allegations.

The Close to Home plan does not explain what data will be publicly available about its new lockups, though it does say that [t]he city expects that throughout implementation and execution of Close to Home, we will be called upon to update the City Council, as well as key members of the State Assembly and Senate, including the Committees on Children and Family Services.,

The plan also anticipates regular and formal input from stakeholders and consumers of non-secure placement services (judges, lawyers, families, etc.), but does not explain how that input will be institutionalized.

Money

The annual cost of the city's nonsecure lockups is expected to be $56.8 million, with half to come from the city, and half to be paid for by the state. Of the state money, more than $12 million will come from the Foster Care Block Grant, which currently funds services for children and families in the foster care system.

Providers will receive an initial base rate of $400 per child day, based on the assumption that 90 percent of their slots will remain occupied, plus add-on rates for extra services like paying staff to accompany children to school.

Against the Clock: The struggle to move kids into permanent homes

New York City is charging a growing number of families with abuse and neglect, leaving Family Court overwhelmed and more children spending longer periods in foster care. This edition of Child Welfare Watch reports on the difficulties of moving children out of foster care in a timely manner in the wake of Nixzmary Brown's murder, two years ago tomorrow.

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