Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

125th Anniversary of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Tuesday, April 25th, 2000

As Delivered


125 years ago this April, a group of concerned New Yorkers gathered to form an organization that was dedicating to combating child abuse which seems like a good thing to do and something which would be just universally accepted. But in fact 125 years ago, they were pioneers. At that time, animals were protected by law from inhumane treatment but children were not. Child abuse was widely thought of as a private matter that other people should not be allowed to interfere in, much as domestic violence for a long time was considered a private matter that government and others should not have any right to interfere in. The thought that an independent organization should somehow be concerned with this private matter was actually quite revolutionary 125 years ago.

The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children stepped into this void in 1875, and was the first child protection agency that had ever existed, which for the first time put the issue of child protection in a broader light. The New York City Police Department immediately began getting referrals involving the cases of this new organization. In the first eight months, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children investigated hundreds of complaints, prosecuted 68 criminal cases and rescued 72 children from abuse. And slowly - very, very slowly - people's minds began to change and they took a very different look at this terrible situation.

One early prosecution provides a powerful example of the atmosphere that The New York City Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children encountered back in 1875. A police officer encountered a man who was beating his son on the street with a whip. The man was surprised when he was arrested, and shocked when he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

But the definition of assault says that you're not entitled to strike someone else, you're not entitled to harm someone else, you're not entitled to hit someone else. It doesn't say there is an exception for a man doing that to his wife or for a father doing that to his son. And what people had thought of as a private matter, was suddenly being taken very seriously as a public issue.

People were beginning to see that an issue they thought was private was not only immoral but had to be dealt with as a crime. And thanks in large part to the resources and the civic courage of the members of The New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, our society finally began to take a look at and a stand against child abuse.

Since those days, many of the changes that we've seen have come about because of the work of this Society. Your predecessors pioneered the basis of many of the laws that we take for granted today: legislation which didn't exist 125 years ago, prohibiting child labor in sweatshops and factories, and acts requiring custodians to provide food, clothing, medical care and supervision to children in their care. In the past, none of that was thought of as necessary, much like laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicants and guns to children, and now tobacco and cigarettes to children. Your example has inspired organizations and legislators not only around the country but also around the world, and it's made us look at our society in a more complex and in a deeper way.

I keep thinking that if we had thought about child abuse and domestic violence in the past the way we do now, the level of violence that we have in our society would not nearly be as bad. It's unfortunate and tragic that terrible things were happening behind those doors and those actions have repercussions for all of us in society. A child who grows up in a situation of abuse - either of that child or of the parent - is a child who is much more likely to act out violently in the future and against the rest of society. So it is all our concern.

In total, over the past 125 years, The New York City for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has investigated more than 650,000 cases on behalf of 2 million children. The children have gone on, many of them, to have healthy, productive, complete lives, to raise children of their own and to break the cycle of violence that I was talking of. And they've contributed to the life of our city and beyond in many ways, and there are many examples of distinguished New Yorkers who have been helped in many ways by your organization.

And I'd like to join you today in acknowledging one in particular who has helped New York, he's helped the nation, he's helped me, he's helped lots of children in New York City and he is going to be the recipient of your first Elbridge T. Gerry Award, Nick Scoppetta.

As the commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services, Nick has affected, touched and benefited the lives of countless numbers of children. He's presided over the most fundamental reforms of child welfare in our city in at least a generation and probably more. The Administration for Children's Services is actively building on innovations that much of it comes out of this Society that was pioneered 125 years ago. And what they're attempting to do is to bring child welfare into the 21st century and to give children the maximum amount of protection possible.

And, again, I don't want to fall into the trap that a lot of social engineering over the last 20 to 30 years has fallen into. We cannot solve all of these problems. Government cannot solve all of the problems of society and we should not fool people into thinking that we can solve all of their problems because we want to feel good about ourselves. That's a cruel deception to give to people.

We can do a better job of addressing these problems, though. We have to offer the maximum amount of protection possible to children, knowing that our efforts are not going to reach perfection, because many of the problems that are taking place are beyond our grasp - within families, within private organizations and within smaller groups in our society. And hopefully in the future, there will be better solutions too. But they don't exist now. What we can do is offer children protection and we can do a better job of that, and we can use every resource at our command to accomplish that. And that's what we've tried to do with the Administration for Children's Services.

Some of the objective accomplishments make the more subjective accomplishments, I think, emerge even stronger. ACS reduced the foster care population from 42,000 at the agency's start in 1996, to just over 34,000 as of January of this year. So there's been a major reduction in the number of children in foster care, probably the largest that there's been in a very, very long time.

Adoptions have reached a record high in just the last three years - we've completed 11,657 adoptions. That number is even more extraordinary when you consider that in each one of those years, those adoptions constituted 20% of the foster care adoptions in the entire nation. So ACS is way ahead of anyplace else in finding what is obviously the best solution for a child, which is a permanent adoptive home where the child can have security and love and permanency.

ACS is being restructured as much as possible into a neighborhood-based child welfare system. In the past, a study showed that 88% of children who were placed in foster care were moved far away from their homes and their schools, and since most children return to their parent or parents, that disruption in their lives was probably enormously counter-productive. We're seeking to reverse the trend so that children will receive the help, the assistance, and the support that they need in their community where ultimately they're going to build their lives.

In keeping with this more personal and less bureaucratic approach, Nick has reduced the average child protective specialist caseload from 27 to 12. 2,000 new caseworkers have been hired to make this possible, and their training has been increased dramatically. And to keep the most successful caseworkers, Nick has increased their salaries, he's instituted merit pay for the ones who were doing the best job, and he created a scholarship program for ACS employees to advance their education in metropolitan area colleges.

All of these things are going to make this agency continue to outperform agencies around the country, and - most importantly - to continue to improve on reaching a goal that we'll probably never reach, which is protection of all children. But we've got to keep aiming for that goal, because then we're going to help the most children.

In order to effectively respond to emergency situations - which unfortunately and tragically come up when children have to be removed from a home in which violence is ongoing or drug dealing is taking place or criminal activity is taking place - we've created instant response teams. These teams are composed of ACS workers, police officers, assistant district attorneys and a child advocacy center staff. Nick has also worked out with the Board of Education and the Chancellor an unprecedented agreement, a protocol so that we don't have children - as much as possible - falling through the cracks. Most, if not all, of the children that we have to protect come into contact with the City of New York through the public school system. And, therefore, if we can train people better, if we can utilize what they're doing better, then fewer and fewer children, like some of the tragic situations that we face, will fall through the cracks. If we have ACS, the public school system and the Police Department, who largely have contact with most of the children that need help, if we have them working together, if we have them trained properly, then we have them keep continuing to improve what they're doing.

These are all things that Nick - because of his unique experience, background, and the kind of person that he is - has made possible. His background as a child who was in foster care, his background as a lawyer, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, and his background with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, make possible his understanding of the deep complexity of these problems in all aspects. It's been a unique opportunity for the City and the most wonderful and best thing about it is that it has immensely benefited the children of the City who need help the most.

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