The coronavirus pandemic has had lingering effects on the child-welfare system, including continued lower rates of child-abuse cases being reported and a smaller number of children being placed in foster care, according to a report by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.
The survey monitoring child protection, preventive and foster-care services provided by the Administration for Children’s Services found that there were 55,984 reports of child abuse and neglect in Fiscal Year 2020, a 15-percent decline from a year earlier.
Fell 54% Last April
Child-welfare activities dropped sharply during the spring, then picked up in the fall but have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the report found. The number of consolidated child-abuse investigations fell last April to 2,292, 54 percent lower than for April 2019. As of November—the most-recent month of data included in the report—investigations were down by 21 percent.
Although Child Protective Specialists continued visiting families across the city during the shutdown orders, the average caseload among dropped from 10.5 in FY19 to 7.5 in FY20. The nationally recommended standard is 12 cases per CPS worker.
The number of abuse and neglect cases filed by ACS in Family Court also declined dramatically after COVID restrictions were put in place and the court’s operations were limited, shifting to virtual hearings March 26. The agency filed 10,305 cases in FY20, down from 12,723—a 19-percent decrease—a year earlier. There were also 401 fewer emergency removals of children compared to the 1,790 made in FY19.
But despite the pandemic, the report noted, there was a higher number of court filings and emergency removals last fiscal year than in Fiscal Years 2015 or 2016.
Problem Hasn't Subsided
The decrease in child-abuse cases during the pandemic did not mean that fewer children were neglected, but likely reflected the fact that mandated child-abuse reporters such as Teachers and health-care workers were interacting with children less frequently, ACS has noted.
ACS stated that it has been collaborating with other city agencies in order to enhance the oversight of childrens' safety, and that its Family Enrichment Centers that connect families with resources have remained open.
“The initial drop in reporting in late March and April was largely due to reductions in reports by school personnel, who typically make 25% of the reports. Proportionally we’re now receiving more reports from people like friends, neighbors, and relatives," Comissioner David Hansell explained. “Our CPS have continued to perform their heroic work as first responders, conducting child welfare investigations 24/7, identifying safety concerns and connecting parents with the services and supports they need.”
The number of children in foster care has steadily declined throughout the years, and that trend continued. The rate of kinship-care placements—placements with relatives—also managed to grow last fiscal year, by 39.8 percent, despite the pandemic, according to the report.
ACS has been working to expand prevention services and resources to families in order to continue reducing the number of removals. In October, the agency launched the Parents Supporting Parents initiative, which pairs parent advocates who have experience with the child-welfare system as mentors to parents with children in foster care. The program was designed to help improve reunification outcomes.
The number of children in foster care reached a “historic low” of 7,827 in FY20, a 30-percent drop compared to FY15. However, the number of children discharged from foster care was much lower last fiscal year—3,102—than the 4,100 children discharged in FY19.
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