A prominent New York City official fired off a scathing letter last week to the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) Commissioner David Hansell, alleging that his agency had failed to enact urgent reforms.
“In the wake of another tragic death of a child apparently known to ACS, it is imperative that you make clear the steps that ACS is taking to implement [the independent monitor’s] recommendations,” wrote New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to Hansell in a letter leaked to the press this month.
Stringer’s letter follows the news of police charges against a Bronx woman for murdering her infant, Raymond Porfil, Jr., earlier this month. The mother had reportedly already lost custody of three older children to ACS due to neglect.
Hansell’s predecessor, Gladys Carrión, resigned two years ago after the deaths of two young boys whose families ACS had also previously visited. Several state and city audits of ACS ensued, prompting Governor Andrew Cuomo to make the controversial decision to hire corporate investigative firm Kroll Associates to monitor the agency.
Stringer’s letter stated that Hansell has yet to provide an update on ACS’ compliance with the Kroll recommendations. ACS spokeswoman Marisa Kaufman refuted the implication that the agency is behind schedule, writing in an email to The Imprint that all of the reforms “are either completed or well underway, and many of them were already underway before Kroll issued its report in December .”
The comptroller’s rebuke is one of the first high-profile criticisms of Hansell’s administration, which has relied on the commissioner’s press-friendly persona to create a positive face for the agency. Stringer, meanwhile, has a history of taking New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointees to task and is rumored to be running for mayor.
Stringer’s Office of the Comptroller conducted its own audits of ACS in 2016, showing the agency suffered from “poor oversight and ineffective management.” After making initial recommendations based on a small sample of ACS cases, the Comptroller reviewed almost 3,700 “high priority” ACS investigations and determined that in over a quarter of cases, ACS staff did not meet with the alleged abuse victim the required number of times.
A report on ACS safety practices released last May by Casey Family Programs, an influential child welfare foundation, said that “the numbers of child fatalities in families known to ACS fluctuate yearly within a relatively narrow range, with a low of 39 and a high of 58, and the data do not suggest a pattern.”
Responding to Carrión’s resignation two years ago, Stringer clarified his role as a child welfare watchdog. “[ACS] commissioners come and go, but fundamental change must be here to stay,” Stringer said.