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Applauding child protective specialists

More than 1,000 across the city making positive impacts


Next week, the NYC Administration for Children’s Services will hold its annual Child Protective Specialist Appreciation Week celebration, when we recognize and thank all those who work in communities across New York City, ensuring children are safe and families are supported wherever they live in the five boroughs.

ACS has over 1,000 CPS who work day in and day out assessing and ensuring the safety of children while also connecting families to concrete resources and services like mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, intimate partner violence interventions, and even child care vouchers. For the hard work they do each and every day, the city’s child protective specialists deserve our utmost respect and support.

CPS go above and beyond for the children and families with whom they serve. It doesn’t surprise me when I hear the stories about my colleagues. One CPS gave each child they worked with a coloring book to help them understand safety, another stayed with a parent and child who were experiencing domestic violence until they were in a safe place, and just last month our Bronx South Office honored the mothers in their community with a Mother’s Day Brunch.  

As the deputy commissioner for the ACS Division of Child Protection, I understand the unique challenges our CPS face as well as the deeply rewarding moments that they get to experience. I began my 30-plus years with ACS as a CPS working directly with children and families. I worked hard balancing my career and being a mom to two children. With the agency’s support, I even went back to school to earn my master’s in social work so I could continue to grow and advance my career.  

In the years since I started out, we have built the most robust supports to our CPS team of anywhere in the country. ACS makes sure child protective specialists have the training and resources they need to do their jobs effectively.  

Our caseload average is currently nine — one of the lowest nationally. New CPS are trained via our James Satterwhite Academy, which is a national leader in child welfare training, and we provide career-long learning for staff through the ACS Workforce Institute, established in collaboration with CUNY. The institute provides staff with dozens of courses on critical issues of practice such as safety and risk assessment, investigative techniques and family engagement skills. 

We also opened a new simulated training site in which CPS train in mock apartments and a mock courtroom. It gives CPS a more realistic sense of what it’s like to conduct home visits during investigations and interview parents and children, and to learn new skills. At the sites, parents and children are played by actors who role-play elements of actual cases that have come to our attention.  

On the job, new CPS start in training units and throughout their career have the support of consultants and coaches with expertise in investigations, substance misuse, mental health and intimate partner violence.   

We’re also now training staff on how to help mothers struggling with maternal mental-health disorders. Trainings will focus on the basics of maternal mental health, including how to raise maternal mental-health awareness among all families, how to recognize signs and symptoms, how to offer appropriate resources for referrals, and more. By educating our staff and raising awareness, we are hoping to mitigate the stigma and make sure parents know it’s OK to ask for help.

More and more, we are implementing our CARES approach (Collaborative Assessment, Response, Engagement, and Support), which is our non-investigative response in which specially trained CPS assess the safety of the children and then partner with the family to identify their needs, empower the family to make decisions that address their needs and the needs of their children, and connect families to appropriate services. CARES cases now account for about 25 percent of new cases.

Finally, we’re working on narrowing the front door to the child welfare system by ensuring mandated reporters know when to call in a report of suspected abuse or neglect, and when accessing support directly is more helpful. The State released a new mandated reporter training so that those working most closely with children, like teachers, hospital staff, and shelter staff know how to best support a family in need without reporting a family and so our CPS can focus on instances where children may truly be in danger.

Child protective specialists are the superheroes who strive every day to improve the lives of children. If you have a desire to make change in your community, want to work with children and families, and are looking for a stable career path, I strongly encourage you to consider applying to become a CPS

As a CPS, you will be a valued member of a team that works together to help children and families. We build in peer support, supervisory support and camaraderie into the daily schedule of every CPS. Supervisors hold regular team meetings where CPS workers talk about their cases. Our work is by definition social in nature; the opportunity to discuss what has happened to you on any given day or to get help deciding how to handle a specific issue is always available.

I’m proud to be a former CPS and am so thankful for the outstanding team that I work alongside. Join us as we continue to make New York City a safer, more equitable place for all children and families.

Joan Cleary is the deputy commissioner for the Division of Child Protection at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services.


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