Hold ACS accountable, but recognize it saves lives

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ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion, Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Herminia Palacio speak to media following the death of Zymere Perkins (Photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

All New Yorkers mourn for Zymere Perkins. The loss of any child is painful; a loss that could have been prevented is almost too much to bear. As child welfare professionals responsible for the lives of many precious children, we are determined to learn any lesson we can to protect them from harm.

Working alongside the Administration for Children’s Services, we will muster our collective professional experience, call upon the best and brightest in our profession and take a hard look at practices. We know that there is no margin for error – we know that a bad day, a missed sign, an unreturned phone call, a delayed visit, could potentially result in the loss of a child’s life.

We represent three of the oldest and largest charities in New York City. Our staffs walk into dangerous situations, as do the caseworkers at ACS, armed only with a cell phone and a notebook. Our foster families care for many children who are in great pain. Together, we wade through the most complex of family circumstances, exacerbated by poverty, social isolation, racial segregation and sometimes, serious mental illness. Around the clock, we engage parents and help them improve the lives of their children. We do so, always, with a close eye on the safety of children – and our work has profound intergenerational implications.

 

While ACS should be held accountable for any mistakes and misjudgments made and the city must commit – as it is already doing – to additional investments that build on the lesson learned, we must also recognize that today’s child welfare system overall is far different and much improved from the child welfare system of 20 years ago when ACS was created.

As Mayor de Blasio has pointed out, the city made smart investments over two prior administrations that have moved us forward significantly. Now, the Mayor has made a $100 million investment in the child welfare system, which has enabled ACS and Commissioner Carrion to work toward the following improvements in our care of these children:

- The foster care population is the lowest it’s been in decades as more children are being adopted and fewer are growing up without family.

- Our preventive services system, where we help families stay together,  has overcome a historical gulf of distrust between families and the system. Cities around the country envy this system which provides families with tools to succeed and closely monitors their progress.

- We are a national leader in implementing evidence-based programs based on measurable results that keep more children out of harm’s way.

We will surely learn more about the Perkins case in the days ahead. Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Carrion have already announced - and detailed at a City Council hearing yesterday -  thoughtful reforms, especially the guidance to schools, where signs of abuse can often be spotted early. We are eager to apply any additional lessons learned.

Yes, we should hold the city accountable for its actions. Let’s be transparent about our failures, learn from them and make improvements. Let us also recognize an agency that literally saves thousands of lives every year, whose leadership and professionals are as dedicated as any we’ve seen in our decades of work in this field. All of us who do this work, carry with us the pain of children we know who've been hurt by someone close to them. For all of those children, and for Zymere, we must come together to get this right. To be sure, the most effective way to do so is to build on what is right in our system, in our families and in our communities.

 

Jess Dannhauser is president and CEO of Graham Windham; Jeremy Kohomban is president and CEO of The Children’s Village and Bill Baccaglini is president and CEO of The New York Foundling.

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