Op-Ed: Administration for Children’s Services Should Do More to Support Community Partnerships

| January 12, 2012 3:23 PM

The Community Partnerships Initiative trains community representatives to help parents navigate the child welfare system. Photo courtesy of Center for New York City Affairs.

Nearly five years ago, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services launched a plan to create a culture of community participation and transparency in the child welfare system. The Community Partnership Initiative sought to establish collaborations between organizations and residents in districts that have high reporting rates of suspected abuse and neglect with the goal of supporting local families and therefore the welfare of children.

Now, a new report in Child Welfare Watch called “One Step Back: The Delayed Dream of Community Partnerships” looks at the progress of the city’s community partnerships — at their accomplishments as well as their very real limitations, and at the vision they still represent for a child welfare system that answers to the communities it’s designed to serve.

Key findings include:

  • While partnerships provide valuable assistance to a small number of families with children in foster care, their work remains largely on the margins of the system. They have not received the investment or support they would need to achieve broad-scale change.
  • In 2008, the city planned to double the funding for each community partnerships and to expand their reach. That plan never materialized. Total funding distributed to partnerships has remained static at $1.65 million. (See “No Easy Choices.”)
  • Each partnership is responsible for facilitating 40 visits per year, where kids in foster care can spend time in the community with their parents. Many of the partnerships’ visiting services have been underutilized due to a lack of referrals from foster care agencies. (See “The Tricky Thing About Visits.”)
  • Foster care in New York City costs 42 percent less than in 2000, but the city has not stuck to its plan of reinvesting savings into services that help stabilize struggling families.

This report looks closely at two of the partnerships’ most promising projects: their work in child safety conferences, where they amplify parents’ input in identifying services and resources that might help their families; and their role in improving parents’ visits with children in foster care which can speed up reunification.

The report also looks at the larger context of the city’s commitment to prevention, strengthening the power of communities to keep children safe at home.

Key recommendations from the report:

  • The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and City Hall should commit to — and invest in — resources and supervision that will enable partnerships to produce impressive results.
  • ACS should begin tracking outcomes data that demonstrate the partnerships’ impact on family support and stability.
  • The ACS Office of Community Partnerships should provide more skilled expertise, guidance and facilitation.
  • ACS should hold foster care agencies accountable for participating meaningfully in community partnerships.
  • Partnerships should recruit community residents with experience of the child welfare system.
  • New York City Family Court should create designated court parts for neighborhoods with well-developed community partnerships.
  • Community partnerships must have room to develop their own agendas and pursue goals that strengthen and expand neighborhood resources.

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