The mission of the Division is to represent the Commissioner and by extension the Agency's child protective and child permanency staff in New York City's five Family Courts. The Division's attorney, paralegal, child welfare and support staff work collaboratively with Child Welfare Division staff throughout Children's Services to provide quality legal representation as the Agency makes critical decisions about safety, well-being and permanency planning for children.p>
In their most visible work, more than 200 ACS attorneys appear in Family Court in more than 100,000 proceedings involving children and their families each year. For example, the law requires that when a child must be removed from his or her home, the Commissioner is required to present evidence to a Family Court judge to demonstrate that the child cannot live safely at home. A caseworker from the Division of Child Protection is called by the ACS attorney to testify at a formal hearing about the risks presented in the child's home and about the efforts the agency made to keep the family together. At this initial appearance, the Court appoints a law guardian to represent the children, as well as a lawyer for the parents if they cannot afford one.
The majority of the cases the Division's attorneys handle involve advocating for permanency plans on behalf of the children currently in the Commissioner's care. The most common goals are for the child to be reunified with his or her family or to be freed for adoption by another loving family, often kin. These cases require our attorney staff to become familiar with each child's needs and to ensure that our foster care agency partners and preventive programs are meeting those needs. Our goal is to ensure that each child's future includes a permanent, safe, stable home.
ACS legal staff also works with children and families during the adoption process; reviews and proposes child welfare legislation; and ensures ACS's compliance with laws and other legal mandates.