Weeks after an audit claimed the city’s Administration for Children’s Services was giving up on children in its juvenile justice program, the city comptroller is once again holding the agency’s feet to the fire.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer released Thursday morning a new audit on the ACS claiming that the agency is potentially putting thousands of children at risk through inconsistent, incomplete and “shoddy” investigations.
According to Stringer, auditors discovered that during multiple instances ACS regularly failed to regularly conduct required check-ins with alleged victims of abuse or neglect; didn’t evaluate homes for signs of domestic violence; and ignored staff concerns about being overburdened by high caseloads.
The audit -- which examined a sample of 25 cases — also found that in the last 10 years, there have been reportedly 30 incidents identified where children died because of “shoddy investigations and poor oversight.”
“The Administration for Children’s Services continues to put our City’s children in harm’s way,” Stringer said. “After years of horror stories about children dying under their care and pledges by ACS to reform itself, our audit uncovered an unchanged agency, rife with mismanagement and bureaucratic inaction.”
ACS said Thursday that the 25 cases reviewed by Stringer represent “an extremely small sample given the thousands of cases per year.” The agency added that it has among the lowest child protective caseloads in the country, with about 10.2 caseloads per worker.
The agency also plans to hire an additional 475 child protective specialists and 25 child protective specialist supervisors. It also has created two new child protective office in the Bronx and Brooklyn — which see the largest number of cases — and plans to increase training and conduct full analysis of the agency’s policies and procedures.
“The de Blasio administration has invested over $122 million to strengthen the child welfare system, $50 million alone to increase staffing and training for those who carry out the critical work of protecting children,” an ACS spokeswoman said. “ACS will continue to strengthen our administrative processes. However, it is important to note that in each of the 25 cases that the comptroller reviewed, the children involved are safe and the families have received appropriate services.”
Each year, ACS handles an average of 60,000 reports of child abuse and neglect through its Division of Child Protection with each case being handled by a team that is expected, upon receiving a complaint, to determine the safety risk level of each child.
Stringer’s audit investigated ACS’s protocols for handling child abuse and neglect allegations from July 1, 2013 through May 31, 2015. Investigators focused on whether the agency had acceptable controls over its processes to investigate allegations.
Some of the major findings include that after allegations of abuse, investigations were incomplete and left the children at risk. Although staff are required to meet with children every other week, out of the 25 cases reviewed, auditors found that the meetings happened in just one case.
According to the audit, during one case a drunk father grabbed a 15-year-old girl by her hair and slapped her across the face and then threw the girl’s mother to the floor always slapping and choking her. In this incident, close to a month passed between visits with the child’s caseworker.
Other findings include supervisors not reviewing cases consistently or on time; the agency not properly screening homes for signs of domestic violence in about two-thirds of cases; notes were not adequately kept for cases; and ACS leadership ignoring caseworkers who said staffing resources were inadequate to fully investigate allegations.
Caseworkers who spoke to auditors said that the 10 to 12 cases they each handle are double the number they “could reasonably handle.”
“Children are being left to suffer in abusive households, and in the face of this damning audit, ACS has the audacity to claim that everything is under control,” Stringer said. “With our children’s lives at stake, we simply cannot let this go on any longer.”
At the end of audit, Stringer made several recommendations to ACS which include demanding staff fully investigate all allegations of abuse following guidelines and keeping notes; making sure managers and supervisors complete reviews on time; and looking into whether the agency actually has the capability to go through the investigation.
“No child should have to spend a single night in an unsafe home, and it’s government’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.