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NYC Administration for Children's Services: The City's child welfare agency, dedicated to protecting children and strengthening families

Press release

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November 22, 2005

ACS Press Office

Children’s Services Commissioner John B. Mattingly Announces Review of Reunification Practices

Detailed Assessment to Strengthen the Steps ACS Takes to Ensure the Safety of Children Who Return Home Following a Stay in the Foster Care System

Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner John B. Mattingly today said that within two weeks the Agency expects to make public a full report in the cases of Dahquay Gillians and Sierra Roberts, two children who died recently after being reunited with their parents. The review of those two cases will detail whatever Children’s Services has learned about the facts in these two cases. The reviews will include interviews with people who were involved with the families, as well as interviews with all pertinent caseworkers, supervisors and other child welfare professionals, an examination of medical records; and a review of all ACS and Family Court records.

Commissioner Mattingly also announced that the Agency was embarking on a thorough review of the agency’s practice when children are to be reunified with their families  and how Children’s Services makes certain that children are safe once they return home.

Children’s Services will also take a series of actions to strengthen our reunification practice.

Strengthening Reunification Decisions and Practices to Ensure Child Safety
Children’s Services will make certain that ACS, provider agencies, family members and other important parties help to assess parent readiness, as well as strengthen its assessment tools for determining when and whether it is safe for children and families to be reunified.   

  • Safety Assessments: Experts in pediatric medicine and mental health available to assess parent readiness to care safely for their children.
  • Substance Abuse Treatment: Comprehensive review of how Children’s Services helps families address substance abuse problems.
  • Parenting Skills Training: Expanded use of skills-based parenting training.  
  • Mental Health Screening: Mental health assessment of parents before recommending reunification.
  • Family Court Approval: Family Court review of all reunification and adoption cases prior to discharge, effective December 21, 2005, when the Family Permanency Law takes effect.

“Nothing is more devastating than losing one of our City’s children to abuse or neglect, and we take full responsibility whenever a child dies who has been in our care,” said Commissioner Mattingly. “Our job is to keep New York City’s children safe. We do keep tens of thousands of children safe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a very strong system that has been getting better and better over the past nine years. But we are also dedicated to doing everything we can to continue to strengthen this system -- and especially to be certain that when we make the decision to recommend that child be reunified with his or her family, that the family is safe and prepared to be good and safe caregivers for their children.”

Commissioner Mattingly said more than 4,800 children were brought into foster care last year because they were not safe at home with their families and that thousands of children are returned safely to their families after a stay in foster care.

Additionally, Children’s Services this year for the first time invested more than $20 million to provide continued support for families after reunification, will continue building on that effort.

Commissioner Mattingly emphasized, however, that Children’s Services can do the best possible job of protecting children when the public participates in helping to protect children. He urged everyone who comes into contact with children -- relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, medical professionals -- to call 311 (or 911 in an emergency) if they believe a child is being abused or neglected. He also reminded all mandated reporters -- physicians and other medical professionals, teachers, social service workers, law enforcement, etc. -- that they are obligated by law to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect.

 “Please call us if you have reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected,” said Commissioner Mattingly. He also pointed out that the holiday season can be a particularly stressful time for families, and urged the public to call if they suspect any abuse. “We promise to investigate immediately; a small thing can make a big difference when it involves a child’s safety. If you suspect a child is being harmed and report this in good faith, you should not worry about being “nosey” or wrong. Your observations or concerns may help us to learn that a child or family needs help.”

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