A government watchdog group has set its sights on a long-defunct New York City foster care commission, saying it is a part of an outdated bureaucracy that no longer convenes, has been dormant for a long time, provides no useful function or is duplicative of work already being done by a city agency.
Reinvent Albany — which pushes for government openness and accountability — has been instrumental in passing several data and open records laws in New York City. The organization is now pushing city leaders to update its laws, remove outdated reporting requirements and eliminate task forces, boards and commissions it maintains are no longer necessary.
As part of a recommendation submitted to the New York City Council last month, the group recommends eliminating the “commission for the foster care of children.” The commission was formed in the late 1940s, after the turmoil and tragedy of the Great Depression and World War II, when children flooded into New York City’s resource-starved and unregulated child welfare system, and were often left to languish in temporary shelters.
Reinvent Albany lists the commission along with 88 other charters, codes and councils it considers outdated, including an interagency advisory council on tow truck licenses, historical fish market reports, and the subsection of a law related to directory assistance calls.
The group has provided written testimony to the New York City Council’s governmental operations committee, which has yet to vote on the matter.
Established in 1946 under the city’s Administrative Code 21-118, the foster care commission was created in response to the increasing number of children being removed from their homes, and the need for policies to ensure their proper care. The law was refined under legislative amendments in 1950 and 1964, but shortly thereafter, the commission practically ceased to exist, according to a 1993 report commissioned by former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.
The commission was reinvigorated under Dinkins as an attempt to improve the overburdened child welfare system, with a focus on kinship care, prevention and adoption.
Opening a letter addressed to “Fellow New Yorkers”, Dinkins wrote that between 1986 and 1990, the number of kids in foster care had grown from 17,000 to more than 40,000, with the population still rising. By comparison, the number of children and youth in foster care in the city today is less than 7,000, according to local data.
“The painful reality is that, in just five years, the number of children in our foster care system had more than doubled,” Dinkins noted three decades ago, vowing: “We could not and did not allow this disturbing trend to continue.”
Fifteen New York City residents who identified or had an interest in child welfare were appointed by the mayor’s office to serve on the commission. They were expected to meet 10 months each year to study and report on the foster care system, recommending new policies to prevent child welfare involvement, visiting and studying facilities and temporary shelters, and advising public agencies on how to improve their services to best meet children’s needs. The commission would compile an annual report of recommendations to the city and court leaders.
Mayor Dinkins called it a “practical, possible path to change.”
He closed his letter to New Yorkers by stating: “I have often quoted the old African proverb which states that ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child.’ Perhaps, as we approach the twenty-first century and telecommunication helps our world seem smaller daily, we will realize that — for New York’s children -— we, the people of this City, are the village.”
But by 2012, a city advisory committee found that the foster care commission “had been dormant for 20 years and was duplicative of the functions of the Administration for Children’s Services,” the city agency that oversees the child welfare system.
Calls to several longtime local leaders in the modern-day child welfare system revealed little interest in the need for the formerly active foster care commission.
Reinvent Albany members consider it an example of the duplicative agencies that still exist. They want the city government to focus on publicly accessible and regularly updated data on issues of local concern.
“The more that open data becomes a normal part of government reporting,” the group stated in its position paper sent to the city council, “the more time and money agencies and the public will save.”