Last week, Administration for Children’s Services commissioner John Mattingly unveiled a new structure and set of priorities for his agency. He also confirmed a development that has been long expected: ACS will cease to work with some of its partner social service agencies as it adjusts to a shrinking number of children in foster care.
At a New School University forum cosponsored by the Center for an Urban Future and the Center for New York City Affairs, Mattingly announced that Deputy Commissioner Zeinab Chahine will head child welfare operations. That work will be broken down into five divisions. Child Protection, which Chahine currently directs, will be run by Sharon McDougall. Attorney Nancy Thompson heads the new Family Court Legal Services, representing the city in legal proceedings. Family Support Services, handling preventive care, will be run by Peggy Ellis. And Family Permanency Services will oversee foster care under the leadership of Susan Grundberg. In addition, a Division of Quality Assurance will monitor the performance of ACS and its private contract agencies.
Mattingly also laid out his vision for ACS’ child welfare services. He wants to increase the agency’s reliance on kinship care, in which children live with appointed relatives instead of strangers, and he’s eager to build partnerships between foster families and the parents of children in care. At the same time, Mattingly promises to rapidly reduce the use of group homes to house older children: By the end of the coming year, he said, 30 group homes will be closed. He called many of the homes he visited “below any standard that I would accept or you would accept.”
The number of private foster care agencies working with the city is also declining, Mattingly noted, and he stressed that he did not want New York City to end up with just a handful of behemoth organizations working with New York City’s families. He vowed that ACS will manage the process to retain the organizations that provide the highest quality services and have the closest ties to the communities they work in. “I believe strongly it makes a difference to children and family that the person reaching out to help them is a neighbor, speaks their language, looks like them and can understand what their experience is in the community,” said Mattingly.
Yet many smaller agencies have been struggling financially, in large part because of cuts ACS has already made. To ensure they don’t go out of business, ACS plans to bring in consultants to help them with management and budget. “Some agencies teetering on the brink are doing a really good job, and we’ve got to help them,” said Mattingly. “It’s amazing how many agencies don’t understand the structure that will lead to their survival or their demise.”
Chronically low performers, on the other hand, will be cut loose. “We cannot have agencies under contract with ACS who did not get one child adopted last year,” said Mattingly. “It’s not acceptable.”