This was the first new hotel built in Brooklyn in 50 years. Brooklyn didn't have a place like this to meet a few years ago, so it's wonderful to be in this room and to discuss the changes that have taken place in the Administration for Children's Services since it was started 5 years ago. You're doing an absolutely great job, and doing a great job means challenging yourself to continue to do better in the future. We've come very far in improving the delivery of services to the children who are most in need - in making the delivery of those services more effective. It will never be perfect and there will always be room for improvement, but we can create far more success by building on success rather than failure.
It was just five years ago, in the State of the City address I gave in 1996, that I announced the formation of ACS. Like most New Yorkers, I was very frustrated and upset about what appeared to be a steady stream of situations in which children had lost their lives or had other things happen to them, and it seemed like we could be doing more. Maybe we couldn't have prevented some of these cases from happening, but we could have organized ourselves better, and put systems in place that would allow different City agencies to communicate better with each other. Child-welfare agencies should have been in constant contact with the Police Department, the Police Department with the Board of Education, the Board of Education with child-welfare agencies and law enforcement, and so on.
It's unfortunate that this is the way these things happen, but in many cases I think change happens this way. For me, it was the tragic death of Elisa Izquierdo that focused my attention on what we could do to prevent tragedies like this from happening. And that's how ACS really began. We were trying to focus on how we could organize child-welfare agencies better. I asked the then-Commissioner of Investigation, Howard Wilson, to take a look at the Human Resources Administration, to take a look at the child-welfare agency, and to recommend to me what we could put in place that would give us a better chance of preventing a situation like Elisa's. What emerged was a plan to have a single agency that focused just on children, just on children at risk, just on children in need.
Now this independent agency, which is dedicated solely to services for children and families, has its own budget, its own management structure, a Commissioner who focuses day-in and day-out on improving it and making it better. It has become a model for the rest of the country. Ultimately people make things work. You could have the best system with an inadequate person at the helm and it's not going to work. And in this particular case, we're very fortunate to have had a really exceptional Commissioner. I want to congratulate Nick Scopetta for creating the agency.
But just as we could not have done it without Nick, we could not have done it without all of you. The exceptional way in which you all work together and keep looking at new ways to improve accountability is really remarkable. It's a great tribute to the men and women who work in this area.
That you've gotten involved in doing this kind of work says something very important about you. It says there's a caring, there's a dedication to helping children, that really sets you apart. That's why I'm so happy to see that the agency is getting the recognition it deserves.
I have put behind me poster-boards of two different editorials from December of 2000 that you can come up and read, because you are the reason for them. The editorial from the Daily News is titled "City's Saving the Children," and it reads in part, "[A]n independent panel that spent the last two years monitoring the Administration for Children's Services found that it had done more to transform itself into a modern, compassionate system than any other such agency in the United States." The Post editorial was titled "Credit Where Credit's Due", and it reads, "Since [Nick Scoppetta] became ACS chief in 1996, the turnaround has been downright dramatic." Each of you should take time to read these highly congratulatory editorials, because unfortunately people in public service and people doing the work that you do are generally in the newspapers only when something goes wrong. So it's nice to see that you're now in the newspapers for things that are going right.
With all that, there's room for improvement. The pursuit of excellence is never-ending, and that's the purpose of this conference. It's actually for two purposes: First, to congratulate all of you. You're doing a very good job, from the Administration for Children's Services staff to the contract agencies, to the other City agencies who help with children at risk, to Family Court, to Judge Kaye, the Chief Judge of the State of New York, who has made it possible for us to do all the adoptions that we're doing, to the District Attorney's offices, and all the parents and children.
The second purpose of the conference is to build on that success and to figure out how you can continue to improve ACS. Over the next two days you'll be working together in small groups and in large groups to come up with a blueprint for the next five years of reform. If the next five years can be as effective in reform as the first five years, it would really be exceptional -- because it would help even more children.
Over the next two days, you'll be joined by representatives of the Head Start, child-care and child-support communities, who will play a major role in shaping the new ACS plan. The blueprint will serve the same function as the reform plan that was published in December of 1996, which ACS used to measure its progress during its first five years. As a subdivision of HRA, the old Child Welfare Administration didn't have this kind of focus, and now you've got the capacity to do even more. So we're counting on you to accomplish that.
After my remarks, you're going to be broken down into smaller discussion groups to talk about performance measures, which really are important, even more so for a government agency than for a business. Think about it this way. If we were a bank or a retail store, we would all know how to measure ourselves: Is the store making money? Is it making a profit? Is it growing? Is it employing more people? And if the store were losing money and we had to lay people off and we had to put people out of work and take their paychecks away, well, then we'd quickly respond to that, because we'd be failing in our mission.
Your mission is more important in many ways, but much more difficult to measure. In the Police Department we do it through something called CompStat. The CompStat program has changed the nature of the Police Department. We measure every precinct every day, we look at all of the crime indicators, we look at the civilian complaints to figure out which Precincts are accomplishing the job of preventing crime and being respectful to people, and which ones aren't, and then we make changes. I just got a briefing last week on the way ACS uses performance indicators and the ways you're figuring out where we can reduce some of the backlogs that exist and get the caseloads down to manageable numbers so that more children can get help.
This is enormously important, even though it's not the kind of thing that makes it on the six o'clock news. We see all the cameras back there, but we all know that tonight they're not going to say, "ACS focusing on performance indicators."
Maybe they will now, because I made a joke out of it. But the reality is that this is how you've turned yourself around, with all of the other things that the Commissioner's done and you've done. Because ultimately, it means you're willing to be held accountable.
Now, ultimately what we'd like to ensure is that no children are neglected, no children are abused. But when it does happen, we need to ensure that they can get help immediately. That's what all the performance indicators are about -- helping people to perform more effectively.
ACS's Division of Child Protection, for example, has a new management reporting system that results in stronger management and supervision in one of ACS's most critical operations. For the first time, ACS can track nine key performance indicators, including caseloads, overtime, compliance, investigations and assessments. They can pinpoint where the system is performing well, and where it needs help. And the system has helped managers reduce caseloads from an average of 28 per caseworker five years ago to approximately 13 per caseworker today. In 1996 there were 31,564 child abuse or neglect investigations that were overdue. Today, there are 350. That's unbelievable. Overall compliance with the seven-day safety assessment has risen from 76 percent to 99 percent.
And while we may never be able to thoroughly erase violence from the lives of children, the number of fatalities has decreased from 33 per 100,000 in 1984 to four per 100,000 in 1999. That's still four too many, but it's an incredible improvement. Five years ago there were 43,000 children in foster care. Now there are 31,000. And you've set a record of 20,075 adoptions since 1996, a 65 percent increase over the previous six-year period.
But I'd like to conclude by reading a letter that was written by the Special Child Welfare Advisory Panel, composed of national experts, that was assigned to review ACS's performance over the past two years as part of the settlement of the Marisol class-action lawsuit.
The panel wrote as follows: " We are unanimously convinced that the breadth and pace of ACS's reform efforts are themselves compelling evidence of good faith .For most child welfare systems, it would be a very daunting proposition to reconfigure services along neighborhood lines, or to thoroughly overhaul the management of child protective services, or to dramatically increase the amount of training available to staff, or to reform civil service titles and substantially increase salaries for staff and supervisors, or to significantly change reimbursement and evaluation systems for contract providers, or to undertake family case conferencing at key points throughout the life of a case. ACS has taken on all of these challenges, and more, and in our view it has done so with at least deliberate speed in virtually every area The record of accomplishment already compiled at ACS should be the public's best evidence that it can demand further change with confidence that it can be accomplished."
That's the purpose of your conference over the next couple of days. You've
done great things. Through your efforts and your adherence to the principles
of accountability and innovation you have changed skeptics into believers. The
beneficiaries are our children who need help and assistance. As you plan the
next steps for ACS to take in the coming five years, think boldly, and please
accept my personal thanks on behalf of 8 million admiring and grateful New Yorkers.
Thank you very much.
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