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

Legal Services

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.

Division's Services

Abuse and Neglect
Provides legal support to ACS and conducts litigation in the following areas:
  • Administrative Litigation handles Fair Hearings, Article 78 proceedings and various administrative matters in Family Court, Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and before administrative bodies.
  • Child Support Litigation provides legal representation for the Office of Child Support Enforcement in paternity and child support cases.
  • Foster Care Litigation is responsible for litigation on behalf of ACS with respect to children who have been placed voluntarily in foster care.
  • The Litigation Units in each borough represent the Commissioner in abuse and neglect proceedings, working with other ACS program areas to ensure timely and quality outcomes for children and families.

Office of Adoption Services
Recruits potential foster parents, evaluates the suitability of these parents’ homes, and coordinates the adoption process from the initial planning to the adoption finalization court proceedings.

  • Adoption Case Management monitors ACS’s contract foster care agencies to ensure safe and timely permanency for children with a permanency goal of adoption. Oversees the diligence of agency efforts to provide services and have children adopted as quickly as possible.
  • Direct Care Adoption provides direct case management services to ensure timely adoption for children whose parents have had their rights terminated.

Provides training to newly hired attorneys in the Litigation Units; provides in-service training to attorneys and program areas on specialized topics.

Legal Affairs
Provides legal and policy advice to all areas of the agency and oversees the following units of ACS:

  • Accountability Review Panel conducts investigations of abuse and neglect that have resulted in the death or serious injury of a child known to ACS.
  • Business Law Unit oversees the purchasing of services or products by ACS, including all contracts with service providers.
  • Compliance Unit works with Corporation Counsel to defend ACS in class action lawsuits, and ensures compliance with court orders, consent decrees and other legal mandates.
  • Employment Law Unit investigates allegations of misconduct or incompetence and, where appropriate, commences and prosecutes disciplinary proceedings.
  • Legal Counsel Unit acts as in-house counsel to ACS executive staff, handles FOIL requests, provides opinions on conflict of interest issues and is a liaison to the NYC Law Department.

Intergovernmental and Administration
Responsible for reviewing and proposing legislation and regulations concerning child welfare issues, corresponding with elected officials on policy, program and constituent matters, and completing land use reviews for all ACS properties.

Labor Relations
Conducts various aspects of the grievance appeals process; represents ACS at meetings and negotiations with labor unions; advises managerial staff on contract and labor matters.

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