Bill De Blasio’s Foster Care System Lashed Again By Outside Watchdog

Mark Peters Department of Investigations New York City

Mark Peters, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Investigations, at his confirmation hearings before City Council. He has frequently tangled with former ally Bill de Blasio and targeted the Administration for Children’s Services for investigation. Photo courtesy of City Council

The New York City child welfare agency failed to hold accountable foster care nonprofits falling short of benchmarks for child safety, claims a new report from a government investigator.

The city’s Department of Investigations found that over a two-year period around 1,000 kids experienced neglect and just over 100 were abused while in the care of the 22 nonprofits with contracts to place children with foster families. The Department also found that the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) failed to impose consequences on firms receiving the lowest safety scores in ACS evaluations.

“ACS is responsible for the safety of nearly 8,500 New York City children in foster care – it has to get this process right,” DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in a statement. “ACS’ failure to properly oversee foster care providers, some with significant safety concerns, must be addressed.”

Peters is considered an aggressive commissioner of the law enforcement agency responsible for rooting out public corruption in city government. This is the fourth critical report on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ACS Peter’s department has released since 2016 — including one castigating the agency in the wake of child-death tragedies that led to de Blasio appointing the current ACS Commissioner, David Hansell, and many new safety protocols. The latest report included data reported through July 2017, four months after Hansell’s appointment.

Among other findings, the DOI report faulted ACS for allowing four nonprofit providers that scored lowest on safety to focus their improvement efforts on other areas, such as finding a permanent home for foster children. Children’s Services has agreed to implement 12 recommendations made by DOI to improve accountability, according to Peters’ announcement.

“The current foster care contracts expire in June 2020 and must be replaced; we are starting the process next year,” said ACS Commissioner Hansell, in a statement emailed via a spokesperson. “As commissioner, I intend to seize this as an opportunity to strengthen the foster care system across the board and continue to enhance safety for all youth in care.”

The DOI report states that of the 1,078 foster youth who were abused or neglected between mid-2015 and mid-2017, the majority of incidents occurred during voluntary or court-ordered temporary reunions with birth parents. An alarming number of the incidents also occurred at the hands of foster parents — 24 percent in 2016, and 19 percent in 2017.

“It’s clear their [quality improvement protocols] needs some more work. They’ve got some blind spots and they need to more thoroughly connect the dots,” said Bryan Samuels, executive director of Chapin Hall, a child welfare research institute at the University of Chicago that helped ACS develop the evaluations reviewed by DOI.

A former commissioner of Illinois’ state-run child welfare system, Samuels added that while he found the DOI report useful, it was too narrowly focused on a few metrics to draw broad conclusions about the performance of ACS and their contracting nonprofits.

“Problems on home visits has a different connotation than when it happens in the foster home itself. This could reflect agencies trying to be aggressive about trying to reunify families, for example.”

Allison Sesso, the executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents hundreds of social services nonprofits in the city, including many foster care service providers, reserved some criticism for the report’s methodology and author.

“Less than 24 hours after DOI Commissioner Peters admitted to ethical misconduct, he’s released a faulty report long on bluster but short on substance,” she wrote via e-mail, referring to news yesterday that a former federal prosecutor had substantiated whistleblower complaints against Peters, over his conduct in firing two officials.

“There’s no substantive revelations in this report. It simply mischaracterizes existing information that nonprofits and city agencies are well aware of — and are working in good faith to address,” added Sesso.

Nevertheless, with a huge portion of the foster care system contracts going up for bid next year, ACS appears to be sending a message to their nonprofit providers.

“There will be providers that may not make the cut. Between now and then, any provider that’s not meeting our standards and fails to show significant improvement will face tough measures up to and including termination of contract,” said Chanel Caraway, ACS’ press secretary, in an e-mail.

In August of 2017, ACS publicly released the 2016 scorecards for foster care agencies that DOI relied on. They have yet to release the 2017 scorecards DOI cited in its new report, and declined to provide them to The Chronicle upon request.

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