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.”

 

UPDATE AND CORRECTION-JULY 6

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)

CD

Foster Care Placement

Total Indicated Cases

BX1 – Mott Haven/Melrose

 74

11.6%

 640

BX2 – Hunts Point/Longwood

 70

16.7%

 418

BX3 – Morrisania/Crotona

 82

13.5%

 608

BX4 – Concourse/Highbridge

 108

14.5%

 747

BX5 – Fordham/University Heights

 96

13.4%

 714

BX6 – Belmont/East Tremont

 98

14.6%

 669

BX7 – Kingsbridge Hghts/Bedford

 72

12.7%

 567

BX8 – Riverdale/Fieldston

 18

11.9%

 151

BX9 – Parkchester/Soundview

 105

13.1%

 802

BX10 – Throgs Neck/Coop City

 23

9.5%

 242

BX11 – Morris Park/Bronxdale

 32

9.7%

 330

BX12 – Williamsbridge/Baychester

 86

14.5%

 595

BX – Unknown CD

 22

20.2%

 109

BX – Total

 886

13.4%

 6,592

BK1 – Williamsburg/Greenpoint

 33

10.3%

 320

BK2 – Fort Greene/Brooklyn Hts

 33

16.0%

 206

BK3 – Bedford Stuyvesant

 160

15.2%

 1,053

BK4 – Bushwick

 63

12.7%

 495

BK5 – East New York/Starrett City

 145

13.3%

 1,090

BK6 – Park Slope/Carroll Gardens

 18

11.4%

 158

BK7 -Sunset Park

 13

4.6%

 280

BK8 – Crown Heights North

 53

14.3%

 370

BK9 – Crown Heights South/Prospect

 33

13.1%

 252

BK10 – Bay Ridge/Dyker Hghts

 9

6.4%

 140

BK11 – Bensonhurst

 19

9.1%

 209

BK12 – Borough Park

 16

8.3%

 193

BK13 – Coney Island

 33

10.2%

 322

BK14 – Flatbush/Midwood

 27

6.8%

 397

BK15 – Sheepshead Bay

 9

4.5%

 201

BK16 – Brownsville

 138

17.8%

 775

BK17 – East Flatbush

 73

13.5%

 542

BK18 – Flatlands/Canarsie

 42

11.1%

 380

BK – Unknown CD

 51

22.0%

 232

BK – Total

 968

12.7%

 7,615

MN1 – Financial District

 3

13.6%

 22

MN2 – Greenwich Village/Soho

 -

0.0%

 15

MN3 – Lower East Side/Chinatown

 73

18.8%

 389

MN4 – Clinton/Chelsea

 21

21.0%

 100

MN5 – Midtown

 11

19.3%

 57

MN6 – Stuyvesant Town/Turtle Bay

 9

17.0%

 53

MN7 – Upper West Side

 29

13.6%

 213

MN8 – Upper East Side

 13

13.3%

 98

MN9 – Morningside Heights/Hamilton

 65

17.3%

 376

MN10 – Central Harlem

 98

18.9%

 519

MN11 – East Harlem

 127

18.6%

 683

MN12 – Washington Heights/Inwood

 54

12.6%

 428

MN – Unknown CD

 21

19.4%

 108

MN – Total

 524

17.1%

 3,061

QN1 – Astoria

 43

12.8%

 335

QN2 – Sunnyside/Woodside

 12

8.4%

 143

QN3 – Jackson Heights

 27

7.4%

 364

QN4 – Elmhurst/Corona

 18

5.1%

 351

QN5 – Ridgewood/Maspeth

 7

2.5%

 280

QN6 – Rego Park/Forest Hills

 1

1.9%

 54

QN7 – Flushing/Whitestone

 22

10.2%

 215

QN8 – Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest

 16

12.1%

 132

QN9 – Ozone Park/Woodhaven

 31

9.8%

 315

QN10 – South Ozone Park/Howard Beach

 22

10.7%

 205

QN11 – Bayside/Little Neck

 4

6.7%

 60

QN12 – Jamaica/Hollis

 96

12.0%

 799

QN13 – Queens Village

 53

13.5%

 394

QN14 – Rockaway/Broad Channel

 60

11.5%

 521

QN – Unknown CD

 18

18.9%

 95

QN – Total

 430

10.1%

 4,263

SI1 – Saint George/Stapleton

 118

18.2%

 650

SI2 – South Beach/Willowbrook

 22

13.5%

 163

SI3 – Tottenville/Great Kills

 17

11.3%

 151

SI – Unknown CD

 14

20.9%

 67

SI – Total

 171

16.6%

 1,030

NYC

 2,979

13.2%

 22,564

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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