The number of families pulled into the net of child protection has grown dramatically since the late 1960s. Then came the crack and AIDS epidemics, which caused the number of child abuse and neglect cases to rise astronomically. In New York City, those numbers went from 41,454 in 1985 to 59,353 in 1989. After falling in the mid 1990s, they shot back up during the Giuliani years, and they remain at near-peak levels, 55,925 in 2002.
But these investigations are taking place in a very different city than that of the 1980s and 1990s. Crack and AIDS are no longer the epidemics they once were. Hardline Giuliani-era policies that sent waves of kids to foster care have given way to more careful assessment of alternatives. The number of children entering foster care has fallen sharply–from a high of 13,215 in 1997 to just over 8,100 in 2002.
How it all adds up: The gap between the number of families investigated and the number of kids being put in foster care has been widening for several years, and reached a record high in the last two years. “Dual track” and other new models of child protection seek to get help to those families between the lines: who are in need but aren’t in foster care.