July 30, 2004
Children’s Services and Homeless Services Officials Announce New Initiatives to Assist Homeless Families with Child Welfare Involvement
Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Linda Gibbs and Administration for Children’s Services Acting Commissioner Lisa Parrish today announced a series of quality improvement measures aimed at increasing interagency coordination and communication to more fully address the needs of those homeless families with child welfare involvement. The measures were developed after an inquiry into the May 2004 death of a 3-month-old infant in a homeless shelter, allegedly due to parental abuse and neglect, and as part of ongoing efforts to increase interagency collaboration. The initiatives include:
- Introducing a screen for all family shelter applicants for open, active child welfare cases,
- Conducting routine trainings of shelter staff on identifying and reporting abuse and neglect,
- Updating instructions to child welfare staff on identifying families with active cases in the shelter system,
- Transferring information gathered through the EAU application process to shelter staff for all eligible families,
- Distributing child safety videos, available in six languages, and brochures to DHS shelters, and
- Conducting routine data matches to determine which families in the shelter system have current child welfare involvement.
Most of these initiatives, which were identified through a series of task force meetings held by ACS and DHS, will be implemented within the next month. In addition, the task force will continue its routine meetings to identify quality improvement opportunities and explore emerging issues.
“While it is clear that not every tragedy is preventable, it is also clear that opportunities exist to strengthen cross-agency work in the name of protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect,” stated Commissioner Linda Gibbs. “Mayor Bloomberg has required that agencies work more closely to share critical information and improve services, and that’s exactly what these recommendations are designed to do.”
The 3-month-old boy’s family entered the shelter system on March 23, 2004 and was subsequently placed at a homeless facility in Northern Manhattan. The mother had a history of child welfare involvement, both as a foster care child herself and with regard to her older son. At the time of entry into the shelter system, there was no open child welfare case involving either child. On May 20, 2004, the youngest child, Colesvingtong, was brought to Harlem Hospital and later died. At the request of Mayor Bloomberg, the inquiry into his death began in June and concluded in late July.
As part of this effort, DHS and ACS conducted internal investigations and coordinated a series of joint task force meetings to discuss the facts of the case and identify areas for quality improvement. While the inquiry found no systemic negligence on the part of public agencies serving the family, the task force identified issues that led to recommended measures to strengthen communication and coordination. For example, the infant’s mother’s status as being on foster care trial discharge was unknown to the DHS shelter system, while the location of the family was unknown to the ACS provider at the time of the fatality.
“Increasing communication between ACS and its providers has been a cornerstone of ACS reforms over the past few years,” stated Acting ACS Commissioner Lisa Parrish. “Further expanding the efforts already under way with DHS will only serve to strengthen the City’s response to vulnerable families at a vulnerable moment in their lives.”
The measures announced today are in keeping with recommendations recently made by a court-appointed panel charged with evaluating the family shelter system, particularly the intake and eligibility functions. The court-appointed panel identified the need for cross training between the agencies, as well as greater communication and data sharing.