Steven Cohen may not be much of a politician–but that's part of what got him his new job.
The master bureaucrat–a veteran of several children's service organizations and the city's child welfare agency–was hired in January as staff director for a new panel charged with overseeing reform at the city's Administration for Children's Services (ACS). According to advocates, Cohen's reputation as a smart, dedicated administrator makes him the right person for the job.
The panel was formed out of December's settlement of the Marisol case, a lawsuit that originally sought a court takeover of ACS. The four-member panel is charged with analyzing the agency from top to bottom in five areas, then recommending reforms. Since none of the appointees live in New York City, Cohen will be their local eyes and ears.
“For him, it's not about politics, it's about results,” says Gail Nayowith, executive director of the Citizens' Committee for Children, who has used Cohen as a consultant. “He's a trusted advisor.”
The panel has already come up with one draft report and plans to have a study of foster care placements done by April. Then, says panelist John Mattingly, the group will produce three more reports, one every six to eight weeks. In 2000, the group will evaluate how well the agency has been implementing their suggestions. The panel will either give the agency a clean bill of health or turn over its analysis to Children's Rights, Inc., the group that filed the Marisol suit.
Cohen predicts the hardest part of his job will be keeping ACS and children's advocates, who are often harsh opponents, communicating with each other. “It's not so much politics as diplomacy,” he says. “It's hard to be looked at by an outside monitor.”