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Mattingly Resigns as ACS Commissioner

Thursday, 25 August 2011

By Fred Scaglione   

The announcement last month that John Mattingly was resigning as Commissioner at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) came as a surprise to most of New York City’s child welfare provider community.  Mattingly has led the agency for seven years during which he oversaw a wide range of major programmatic and policy initiatives designed to better serve families and children by reducing the numbers of out-of-home placements, focusing on rapid achievement of permanency goals through reunification or adoption for children placed in care, development of enhanced models for home-based services and dramatically reduced utilization of congregate residential programming. 

“After seven years as Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, I will be stepping down in September to rejoin the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a Senior Fellow,” said Mattingly in a formal announcement.  “I reached this difficult decision after much careful thought, taking into consideration my desire to continue contributing to the important work of child welfare, while also wanting to return to Baltimore to spend more time with my family.  It has been an honor to work for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and I am very grateful to him for seven years of unwavering support.”

Mayor Bloomberg praised the job that Mattingly had done as ACS Commissioner and expressed regret that he was leaving.   “As I’ve said countless times over the last seven years, New York City has been extraordinarily lucky to have a nationally-renowned expert, John Mattingly, ably and tirelessly leading our Administration for Children’s Services,” said Bloomberg.  “When John came to us and said he wanted to return to his foundation work in Baltimore and have more time for his family, I asked him to reconsider. Few people have worked harder and more effectively in such difficult circumstances than he has. Under John’s leadership, ACS has adapted many essential reforms that have helped to protect and serve the City’s most vulnerable children. On behalf of more than 8 million New Yorkers, I want to thank John Mattingly for his transformative leadership and wish him and his family the very best in Baltimore.”

The announcement of Mattingly’s resignation – as was often the case during much of his tenure – drew strong expressions of praise by nonprofit agency executives for his passionate advocacy for and implementation of many major and extremely positive systemic changes.

“John Mattingly has provided strong leadership and has made enormous contributions to improving the Child Welfare System in New York City,” said Jim Purcell, CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA).  “All New Yorkers owe him their thanks for his efforts to improve the lives of children and families.”

“He will go down in history as the most progressive Commissioner of Children’s Services,” said Anstiss Agnew, Executive Director of Forestdale, Inc. “His resignation marks a huge loss and reflects the turmoil taking place in our country right now.”

“Since he chaired the Marisol panel many years ago and most recently as our Commissioner John has brought incredible commitment and dedication along with an in depth understanding of good casework practice and national trends to the child welfare community in New York,” said Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services.  “His many reforms include the institution of family team conferences, the shortening of stays in foster care and expansion of preventive services, the integration of juvenile justice and the closing of the notorious Bridges facility. Despite overwhelming cuts to the ACS budgets over the past several years John has managed to preserve front line workers and has developed innovative interventions and practices which have strengthened the delivery of child welfare services.”

“John is a courageous leader,” said Jeremy Kohomban, CEO of The Children’s Village.  “He took on a system that needed reform and systematically realigned it to serve children and families in their communities and closest to their local supports.   I loved him for his candor, admired him for his tenacity and we will all miss him for his unshakable convictions.  New York City’ children and families are safer today because of him.”

“John Mattingly is a deeply committed child welfare professional who has had enormous responsibility for children threatened with abuse and neglect.  He has strongly held views about what is best for these young people at risk,” said Paul Levine, CEO of the Jewish Board of Children and Family Services.  Levine went on to cite “at least four major contributions” which he credited Mattingly for making during his seven year tenure at ACS, including increased reliance on preventive services, implementation of Family Conferences, and more.  “I believe NYC and the children and families that ACS works with are the better for them.”

“New York City’s children have not only benefitted from Commissioner Mattingly’s efforts over the past seven years, but will continue to benefit for years to come from the systemic change the Commissioner brought to the child welfare system,” said Jennifer March-Joly, Executive Director of Citizens Committee for Children of NYC.

“Commissioner Mattingly has focused on the needs of families to create a child welfare system that is dramatically improved from what it was 15 years ago when 50,000 children were in care; today there are fewer than 15,000 children in care,” said David Tobis, Executive Director of The Fund for Social Change.  “There are still problems but the underlying one is that the mayor’s office has not provided ACS with sufficient resources to help struggling families.  Through Commissioner Mattingly’s efforts New York’s child welfare system is on a high plateau. The question is whether it will return to a rollercoaster ride after his departure.”

Despite the copious praise, however, there were also some criticisms by child welfare executives that Mattingly’s philosophical passion may have led to a potentially negative rigidity in policy implementation.  The Commissioner and provider agencies did not always agree on policies regarding what many saw as extremely limited use of residential programming options and excessively short length of stay goals for preventive services.  Providers also believe that budgetary constraints gradually eroded the resources necessary to effectively achieve many of the Commissioner’s programmatic goals.    Mattingly’s tenure has also been marked by a number of high-profile child fatality cases, one of which has led to the indictment of two ACS staff and the creation of a Brooklyn Grand Jury to explore systemic failures which may have led to the child’s death, and an extremely problematic child welfare contracting procurement process.

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