What’s the Matter with Staten Island?

photo by Jon Dawson

Over the past two years, the north shore community of Staten Island had more children placed in foster care than any other community district in New York City, according to a Child Welfare Watch analysis of Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) data. In 2010, the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton, near the Staten Island ferry, had the unfortunate distinction of having more children placed in foster care than any other. In 2011, the district ranked second citywide.

The total number of children placed in foster care dropped sharply last year across the city, from more than 7,000 in 2010 to under 5,700 last year. There was a substantial decline in St. George and Stapleton as well, from 361 placements to 273. Nonetheless, the community district remains just below the top of the list.

What’s clear in the city’s 2010 data is that, when child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe abuse or neglect may have occurred, a child had a nearly one-third one-fourth chance of being placed in foster care. This is a rate higher than any other New York City neighborhood with substantial involvement in the child welfare system.

Citywide, just over 19 percent 15 percent of “indicated cases”— where investigators have determined sufficient reason to suspect child abuse or neglect—led to a child being placed in foster care. In the remaining cases, children remained with their families, often receiving services and supports such as parenting classes, child care or counseling.

High rates of isolation and poverty and a philosophy of protecting children by removing them from home all contribute to the frequent placements, according to many who work in child welfare here.

“I think everyone who works in Staten Island knows how overprotective the system is,” says Jody Bahar, an attorney who represents Staten Island parents in Family Court. “We’re going to take the kids. That’s what we do here.”

Others cite a lack of institutional supports for low-income residents. “You have very poor people, and the demographic is very depressed economically, and [it doesn’t have] services that other parts of Staten Island have,” says Ralph Porzio, also an attorney for parents and a former Family Court judge. Porzio adds that services such as subsidized daycare can have a positive snowball effect for families, with one service connecting them to other local resources and supports.

Indeed, there are several thousand young children in these neighborhoods who are eligible for but not receiving subsidized child care—but this is true in most of the city’s low-income communities.

Where the northern Staten Island community district stands out, however, is the high rate of abuse and neglect reporting, and the path taken by these cases once they are investigated. Some activists say that child protective staff are too aggressive in their decision to seek removal.

“It’s the philosophy and the thinking of the administration. You have some very pro-removal people in charge,” says Fola Campbell, executive director of the Staten Island Council of Child Abuse and Neglect. She says that the tendency to remove reflects the second-class status of the St. George and Stapleton  communities, which have many immigrants and families of color, within an otherwise conservative, largely white borough.

Whether it’s for conscious or unconscious reasons, “ACS will take a harder-line stance on those people who are poor and those people who are of color,” says Porzio. As in the rest of the city, Staten Island Family Court usually goes along with ACS child protective investigators’ recommendations to remove children.

“You need someone who is not only going to be remarkably diligent, but remarkably strong of character to say that this is the recommendation from ACS and I’m going to go against it,” says Porzio.

The motives may not be bad, says attorney Jody Bahar. “It’s for altruistic reasons, I do believe that… [Child protective workers] want children to be in a home like their home would be.” Still, she says, “My view is that we take the child too quickly.”

In response to a request for comment, ACS said in a written statement: “It is our goal to keep families intact and advocate for a child’s removal only when we believe there to be imminent risk to the child’s life or health.”



Our  analysis of ACS data comparing indication rates and placement of children in foster care contained an error, although the overall analysis is accurate. Here are the correct numbers: Among city neighborhoods with the greatest number of children entering foster care in 2010, Staten Island’s Community District 1 (the neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton) tops the list in the percentage of children with indicated cases that are placed. When child protective investigators in these Staten Island neighborhoods decided they had reason to believe a child may have been abused or neglected, that child had a 24 percent chance of being placed in foster care. Central Harlem came in a close second, with nearly 23 percent of children with indicated cases getting placed.

In Bushwick, by comparison, about one in 10 children with an indicated case is placed in foster care.

Our original analysis failed to account for the number of children placed into foster care for reasons other than abuse and neglect (such as children whose parents placed them in care voluntarily). The corrected data are below in Table 1, which lists the neighborhoods with a high number of placements.

The ACS uses a different method to measure the outcomes of child protective investigations that are indicated—that is, when the investigator believed there was reason to suspect abuse or neglect had taken place. Below, Table 2 shows the number of indicated investigations that led to a foster care placement of any child in the family, within two months of the conclusion of the investigation. Using this methodology, one placement can represent one or more children being placed from the same family. Central Harlem and Staten Island remain in the top three for the highest percentage of cases that result in placements.

Table 1: Percent of Children in Indicated Reports Placed in Foster Care

(Top 10 community districts plus Jamaica and Bushwick, and five boroughs)


Table 2: Indicated Investigations with Foster Care Placement, FY 2011

(Includes placements made within two months of conclusion of investigation)


Foster Care Placement

Total Indicated Cases

BX1 – Mott Haven/Melrose




BX2 – Hunts Point/Longwood




BX3 – Morrisania/Crotona




BX4 – Concourse/Highbridge




BX5 – Fordham/University Heights




BX6 – Belmont/East Tremont




BX7 – Kingsbridge Hghts/Bedford




BX8 – Riverdale/Fieldston




BX9 – Parkchester/Soundview




BX10 – Throgs Neck/Coop City




BX11 – Morris Park/Bronxdale




BX12 – Williamsbridge/Baychester




BX – Unknown CD




BX – Total




BK1 – Williamsburg/Greenpoint




BK2 – Fort Greene/Brooklyn Hts




BK3 – Bedford Stuyvesant




BK4 – Bushwick




BK5 – East New York/Starrett City




BK6 – Park Slope/Carroll Gardens




BK7 -Sunset Park




BK8 – Crown Heights North




BK9 – Crown Heights South/Prospect




BK10 – Bay Ridge/Dyker Hghts




BK11 – Bensonhurst




BK12 – Borough Park




BK13 – Coney Island




BK14 – Flatbush/Midwood




BK15 – Sheepshead Bay




BK16 – Brownsville




BK17 – East Flatbush




BK18 – Flatlands/Canarsie




BK – Unknown CD




BK – Total




MN1 – Financial District




MN2 – Greenwich Village/Soho




MN3 – Lower East Side/Chinatown




MN4 – Clinton/Chelsea




MN5 – Midtown




MN6 – Stuyvesant Town/Turtle Bay




MN7 – Upper West Side




MN8 – Upper East Side




MN9 – Morningside Heights/Hamilton




MN10 – Central Harlem




MN11 – East Harlem




MN12 – Washington Heights/Inwood




MN – Unknown CD




MN – Total




QN1 – Astoria




QN2 – Sunnyside/Woodside




QN3 – Jackson Heights




QN4 – Elmhurst/Corona




QN5 – Ridgewood/Maspeth




QN6 – Rego Park/Forest Hills




QN7 – Flushing/Whitestone




QN8 – Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest




QN9 – Ozone Park/Woodhaven




QN10 – South Ozone Park/Howard Beach




QN11 – Bayside/Little Neck




QN12 – Jamaica/Hollis




QN13 – Queens Village




QN14 – Rockaway/Broad Channel




QN – Unknown CD




QN – Total




SI1 – Saint George/Stapleton




SI2 – South Beach/Willowbrook




SI3 – Tottenville/Great Kills




SI – Unknown CD




SI – Total








Source: ACS




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One Response to What’s the Matter with Staten Island?

  1. VMGillen June 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard ACS has some real problems on the North Shore – that many complaints are coming from schools (see Advocates for Children’s reports viz. males of the non-caucasian persuasion in the City school system). Note: CB1 has remarkable rates of lead exposure, far surpassing the rest of the City. Exposure often manifests as “bad” behaviour. . .

    Any complaint must be fully investigated… one wonders if high numbers of complaints in conjunction with staff cut-backs (oh yes: cutbacks notwithstanding highly visible failures) and an Agency-wide CYA ethos lead to a higher number of out-placements? (I’m on the mailing list for the union newsletter, btw, having formed close ties with several ACS investigators. Long story, but it has to do with extraordinary kids, military command, and an absolutely unwavering commitment to the children, a commitment which has nothing to do with accomodating people in power).

    The lack of support services on Staten Island, when compared to those available to distressed SESs in the rest of the city, needs investigation.

    Furthermore, when considering public service workers, it bears mentioning that Staten Island is often the “twi-light” tour of choice – the easy place to serve right before retirement – a much more tractable population, parking, and often close to home, because so many workers live here…

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