In February, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed former Obama official David Hansell to lead the Administration for Children’s Services, the agency that oversees both child welfare and juvenile justice in the Big Apple.
Late last month, Hansell tapped Philip Browning, former director of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Families (DCFS), to assist with an initial assessment of ACS’ performance. Browning left the DCFS job after five years at the end of January.
In New York, Hansell inherited a situation that Browning is quite familiar with: tremendous pressure to make changes in the wake of several high-profile deaths. During Browning’s L.A. tenure, the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in 2013 sparked the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, a body that released dozens of recommendations in 2014. The most prominent recommendation was the creation of an Office of Child Protection to oversee the county’s protection efforts.
De Blasio has been cautious to not label ACS’ challenges as systemic, which protects Hansell from being forced into an overhaul of the whole agency. But Hansell did promise a full review of ACS’ protective and preventive services; Browning will surely assist with that and management structure.
The New York Post also noted in late March that Casey Family Programs and Eckerd Kids were expected to be retained “to review its safety initiatives and child advocacy centers.” This might indicate that ACS is considering Eckerd’s Rapid Safety Feedback (RSF) system, which is designed to identify cases that warrant an additional level of caution in order to keep kids at home with their families.
RSF began in Florida, a project in Hillsborough County that developed a predictive analytics approach to identify high-risk cases after nine children known to the system had died in a three-year period. Nine other states have begun to use RSF: Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine and Oklahoma ,Louisiana, Tennessee and Ohio.
Illinois and Ohio have funded their own development of RSF. Casey Family Programs and the National Foundation for Youth have funded the introduction of RSF in the rest.
Former ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión resigned months after tearfully admitting at an October hearing that the system had failed to protect 6-year-old Zymere Perkins from an abusive home life, where he was killed in September at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend. The state has appointed an independent monitor, former state Inspector General Joseph Spinelli, to recommend any possible reforms.
New York has seen its foster care totals plummet from 50,000 in the 1990s to below 10,000.