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Public Advocate files lawsuit against city and state foster care agencies

Lawsuit alleges foster system causing irreparable harm; ACS says system has greatly improved since the 1990s.
Public Advocate Letitia JamesWilliam Alatriste/NYC Council

City and state foster agencies are failing city children in the foster system, making for the most dangerous system in the U.S., Public Advocate Letitia James alleges in a class action lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

James and 10 foster children filed suit against New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), claiming the agencies have caused the children irreparable harm, and failed to protect them and find an appropriate home.

“Our foster children are suffering physical, emotionaland sexual abuse as a result of a system that fails them every single day,” James said. “ACS has delegated foster care to 29 contract agencies, but has consistently failed to monitor these contract agencies — leaving thousands of children languishing in the system with no permanent home. Lives are being ruined during our children’s most formative years, and our legal action seeks to put an end to this injustice.”

One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Elisa W., 16, who has been in ACS custody since she was four years old. The suit alleges that the girl has attended seven different schools, suffered physical abuse and suspected sexual abuse and has been treated for depression andPTSD.

James’ office released a report earlier this week that found New York City’s 11,000 children in foster care spend about twice as long in the system before being adopted.

“The City has made great strides in reducing the number of children in foster care from a high of 45,000 in the 1990s, to just over 11,000 currently, and in the last 18 months ACS has taken significant steps in preventive work designed to keep families together and avoid placing children in foster care in the first place,” ACS said in a statement.

The agency called the comparison of New York City to other jurisdictions inaccurate, in part because NYC Family Court is required to approve ACS placement, which lengthens the process.

Tamara Steckler, head attorney of the Juvenile Rights Practice of The Legal Aid Society, called the lawsuit “short-sighted.”

“This lawsuit is being brought by attorneys who have never represented clients in New York City's foster care system, yet purport to know how to fix it, at a time when foster care numbers are at an all-time low and collaboration is at an all-time high,” Steckler said in a statement.

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