It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). During the two years since I arrived to lead the agency, ACS -- with the help of partners inside and outside of government -- has implemented substantial changes to strengthen our practices to improve the lives of New York City’s children, young people, and families served by our child welfare, juvenile justice, and early care and education systems. There is always more for us to accomplish together.
One of the key aspects of the Strategic Plan that we released in late 2011 is to ensure that staff of ACS and our provider agencies have the skills and supports needed to provide the best care to our children, youth, and families. Our frontline child protective staff, juvenile counselors and those who work with our children, youth and families throughout our provider network engage in some of the most challenging work there is. It is incumbent upon us to find ways to address secondary trauma -- stress or symptoms of trauma that professionals experience when working with traumatized children and families -- and also to help advance our staff’s careers.
We at ACS are working with the child welfare community, including local Schools of Social Work, to attract and retain a dedicated cadre of professionals to achieve these goals. We offer training opportunities for all ACS staff to promote well-being, resilience, and improved practice. We are proud that working with legislative leaders in the New York State Senate and Assembly, worker safety legislation passed to support our child protective staff giving them the same critical protections as police officers, transit workers, nurses, and school employees when they are assaulted on the job.
As an agency, and in collaboration with our provider partners, we are committed to advancing racial equity and cultural competence in our practice. Through the ACS Racial Equity and Cultural Competence Committee, we are focused on raising awareness of the role that race and institutional racism play in child welfare and juvenile justice outcomes, and working to find ways to reduce those effects. We also created the ACS Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Policy and Practice in September 2012 to lead our efforts to raise the level of cultural competence and respect in our practice and to improve services for our young people and their parents who identify as LGBTQ.
Enhancing child safety is always a top priority. To this end, we have hired additional Investigative Consultants, retired NYPD detectives who are trained investigators, to support our child protective staff and operations, and brought on more medical consultants to assist in our work with medically fragile children. We have instituted policies and practices that enable our child protective staff to better determine which services a family needs to help reduce repeat maltreatment of children and ensure that children are brought into foster care only when necessary. We have been successful at maintaining our child protective specialist caseloads at national lows in order to ensure that our investigations are as thorough as possible, including careful consideration of safety and risk, so that the City’s children are protected.
Currently, there are just over 12,500 children and young people in foster care, a record low. Over the past two years, there has been a 26% decline in the number of children entering foster care, and a 66% decline in children entering foster care for 10 days or less. For those children and young people who do enter care, and their families, and care-givers, we are piloting ChildSuccess NYC, an innovative family foster care model that combines four evidence-based components to better engage parents, better support foster parents, and provide skills coaching for young people ages 14 and older. Based on what we learn, we intend to bring the best features of ChildSuccess NYC to NYC's entire general foster care system starting in 2014.
We have also been expanding the array of preventive services that are evidence-based, evidence-informed, and/or based on promising practices, dramatically increasing the availability of services demonstrated to produce positive results for families with children from birth to 18. These services put “a social worker at the kitchen table” to help families resolve the issues they are struggling with -- including truancy, disruptive behavior, and substance abuse -- by building on the family’s strengths.
In October 2012, we launched EarlyLearn NYC, a major innovation in child care and early education to bring consistent, quality early care and education to New York City’s neediest children and families. EarlyLearn NYC merges child care and early education into a single, seamless system, which builds a foundation for success for the City’s youngest residents and their families. EarlyLearn NYC promotes social and intellectual development from birth to age five, preparing youngsters for success in school and beyond.
Over the past eighteen months, we have implemented Close to Home, a ground-breaking juvenile justice reform that allows young people who have run afoul of the law at an early age to be rehabilitated, supervised and, when necessary, confined near their families and in their communities under the care of ACS. We have received tremendous support from our City and State partners, as well as our provider agencies to rehabilitate these young people. Close to Home has already served over 500 young people. While in our care, our City's young people earn credits towards graduation with the New York City Department of Education, putting them further ahead in their education than when they were initially placed with us by the Family Court.
We are also the first secure detention system in the country to implement trauma-informed practices and training that improves the mental health of our young people in detention. It is estimated that up to 90% of youth in detention have experienced trauma; research shows that these young people have high rates of psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). In partnership with Bellevue Hospital and the NYU Langone Medical Center, we are using federal grants to create and conduct trauma-informed screening and care in secure detention at both Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, and Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brooklyn.
I want to commend our staff, our provider partners, and the child welfare, early care and education, and juvenile justice communities for their commitment and dedication to help us achieve our goals. I am confident that with our best efforts, we will continue to make a difference in the lives of New York City's children, young people, and families who we protect, support, and promote.
Ronald E. Richter