Child Welfare Watch: 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 Watchreports 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.

New York City’s Family Court is in crisis, with case backlogs growing and judges unable to hold many routine hearings in a timely manner. The number of abuse and neglect filings against parents by city attorneys has leapt a remarkable 150 percent since the child abuse murder of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown in January 2006, and the court has been unable to handle the increase. Despite the Permanency Law of 2005, which aimed to get children out of foster care faster, kids in New York City are staying in foster care longer. For children in foster care for the first time, the median length of stay before returning home rose from 8.2 months in fiscal year 2005 to 11.5 months in fiscal year 2007.

On the two-year anniversary of the murder of Nixzmary Brown, the Winter 2008 issue of Child Welfare Watchexplores the challenges of moving the city’s foster children into safe, permanent homes quickly, a decade after federal laws sought to improve foster care systems nationwide.

Highlights of the report include:

  • The large increase in petitions filed in Family Court by city attorneys is driven in part by an increase in foster care placements. Such placements are up more than 40 percent since 2005. An even larger factor is the unprecedented increase in requests for court-ordered supervision of families under investigation. These families are expected to participate in services while remaining under city oversight.
  • After a 10-year decline, the number of New York City children in foster care living with relatives is becoming more common. Last year, the number of foster children living in these “kinship” homes grew by 18 percent. Yet because it is still a form of foster care, the NYC Administration for Children’s Services can’t consider kinship care a “permanent” home for children.
  • Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia offer subsidized guardianship as a way to support relatives raising kin’s children outside the foster care system. A pending federal bill could it available in all states, including New York.
  • There were 752 “legal orphans” children with no legal ties to birth parents and not placed in pre-adoptive homes in New York City in 2006. Although controversial, reversing their parents’ loss of parental rights may help some of these older children find safe, permanent homes.

“The Administration for Children’s Services policy agenda contains many elements that deserve wide support,” the editors conclude. “But the mayhem in Family Court had better be addressed soon, or these latest reforms will likely stumble.”

The 15th edition of Child Welfare Watch also looks at proposed legislation to help parents in prison and residential substance abuse treatment centers hold onto their children, as well as a city program that asks foster parents of infants to prepare to adopt as they simultaneously help the babies’ parents bring their children home.