New York City

Stringer: NYC child welfare agency failing troubled youth

June 3, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
City Comptroller Scott Stringer

New York City’s child welfare agency dropped the ball on a citywide program designed to keep troubled youths out of the criminal justice system, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in an audit released Friday.

Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) mismanagement has “betrayed the very children it is supposed to be serving,” Stringer said in a statement.

The Close to Home juvenile justice program places delinquent children ages 7 to 15 years old who do not require detention into residential care. Placement in this program allows children to live in a home-like environment, closer to their families.

Auditors found, however, that ACS failed to supervise the youths’ treatment and the services, if any, provide by the contracted providers. ACS was not meeting with youths or with their families, as required, and failed to document site visits and necessary oversight.

Most of the children and their families never received an initial phone call from ACS within the first week of placement, as required. A third of the children never had the mandated in-person meeting with ACS within his or her first two weeks in the program. Only one of the nine families audited had the required in-person meeting with ACS.

Some of the failures are related to documentation. ACS policy requires staff to contact parents or guardians every month, but there was “no evidence that 86 percent of these calls took place,” according to the audit.

Each child is supposed to have a monthly meeting with ACS to ensure they are receiving proper care. ACS could not provide evidence that one-third of those mandatory meetings took place.

In many cases, it appeared that ACS had no idea of what was happening within its own agency.

ACS did not have an accurate list of all providers on heightened monitoring or “corrective action” status. When asked for the list, ACS excluded seven sites operated by the provider SCO in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and Boys Town, which ran six sites in Brooklyn and Queens.

Even when the agency knew a service provider’s status, it did not adequately track what steps providers on heightened monitoring or corrective action status were taking to correct problems, the audit said.

“When ACS doesn’t bother to meet with children or contact their parents, they’re telling these kids they don’t matter, and giving up on them before they even have a chance to turn their lives around,” Stringer said in a statement. “If ACS isn’t doing their job, they can’t know if the program is working for these kids, or if their living conditions are safe.”

“The safety of our young people — and communities — is paramount,” ACS Deputy Commissioner Jill Krauss said in a statement, according to AP. “Over the past year, ACS has added experienced staff to monitor the safety of programs, enlisted the NYPD to assess security at all Close to Home sites, and, since 2013, we have shut down three programs that were unable to adhere to our standards.”

The full report can be found at http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit/?r=06-02-16_MD15-056A