Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner John B. Mattingly today released preliminary reviews of the agency’s involvement in the lives of two children who died recently after being reunified with their families. These reviews are attached.
Commissioner Mattingly and Executive Deputy Commissioner Zeinab Chahine will be available at 2 p.m. today to answer questions about these reviews. This briefing will be held at 150 William Street, between Ann and Fulton, on the 18th floor.
“Three weeks ago, we promised to conduct a thorough review of our involvement with the families of Dahquay Gillians and Sierra Roberts, two children who died recently after being reunited with their parents,” said Commissioner Mattingly. “Today, I am sharing these reviews with the public and explaining what we have learned. As part of these reviews, we have examined all ACS case records, medical records and Family Court records available to us. We have also interviewed individuals close to these family members, caseworkers, supervisors and child welfare professionals.
“What we have learned from this work is very similar to what we shared with the public when we announced that we would look into the practice in these cases – in the final analysis we cannot fault the original decision in either case to return the children to their parent. At the same time, we now know from the reviews that there are particular areas of practice that we need to strengthen to improve our safety assessments of families and provide workers with the supports they need to protect children.
“What we see in these two cases are two very vivid pictures of the enormously difficult challenges faced by families who struggle with issues of drug addiction, housing, mental health, domestic violence and other serious problems. It also points to the complexities of the assessments and decisions faced by the dedicated staff at Children’s Services who are charged with the responsibility to protect children.”
As a result of these two reviews, Children’s Services will be taking the following actions to strengthen our practice around reunification decisions and other child welfare practices to ensure child safety:
- ACS will work to improve its staff’s safety and risk assessments to make sound decisions as to when and whether children should return home, and to ensure supportive services are in place after the children are returned to their parents.
- ACS will enhance its staff’s ability to assess and understand the dynamics of substance abuse and the impact of drug use on family functioning.
- ACS will work with the Family Court to improve the communication and transmission process to ensure the results of drug testing in the court‘s facilities are available to all parties and the court in a timely manner.
- ACS will strengthen oversight and supervision of its staffers responsible for ensuring proper practice is followed in cases involving court-ordered supervision.
- ACS will work to ensure that all court directives and orders are clearly and rapidly conveyed to whatever unit of Children’s Services or contract agency that is responsible for monitoring compliance and providing services, and then ensure that those services are actually put into place. The court should be promptly notified if the terms of the orders are not adhered to by the parties under supervision.
- ACS will work to make certain that its staff consider and rule out parental drug use in cases where past substance abuse has been documented.
Children’s Services also plans to enhance the following aspects of case practice to make certain of parents’ readiness for reunification:
- Safety Assessments: Experts in pediatric medicine and mental health will be made available to assess parents’ readiness to care safely for their children.
- Substance Abuse Treatment: ACS will undertake a comprehensive review of how Children’s Services helps families address substance abuse problems.
- Parenting Skills Training: ACS will expand use of skills-based parenting training.
- Mental Health Screening: ACS will conduct mental health assessments 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.
Commissioner Mattingly also announced today the suspension of a Child Protective Manager. It is alleged that this ACS manager falsified a case record in the Gillians case after the child died. These additions to the case record would have made it seem that instructions to the Supervisor and Child Protective worker in the case had been made and documented in the record – when, in fact, they had not. The matter has been referred to New York City’s Department of Investigation.