Sarah Montague, Senior Producer
Sarah Montague is in her seventeenth year as producer of the fiction series Selected Shorts for WNYC, and also produces features, dramas, and documentaries.
The Center for New York City Affairs hosted a forum on February 2 to review the connection between child welfare and juvenile justice in New York City and the state.
The event, entitled “Ties That Bind: Reimagining juvenile justice and child welfare for teens, families and communities,” was intended to coincide with the implementation of key new initiatives that would bring the administration of the intertwined child welfare, juvenile justice and foster care services under New York City jurisdiction.
Participants included Ron Richter, the Commissioner for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services; Deputy Commissioner Larry Bushing; Gabrielle Prisco, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project, the Correctional Association of New York; Mike Arsham, Executive Director, Child Welfare Organizing Project; and Angela Watson, Program Director, Juvenile Justice Initiative, SCO Family of Services in Brooklyn. The forum was moderated by Andrew White, the Director of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.
As the speakers and panelists at the New School’s Theresa Lang Community and Student Center noted, historically, both foster placements and detention often take at-risk teens far from their families and communities, thereby making care and counseling modalities even more difficult and frustrating for those in the system.
Childcare advocates also call for more involvement by parents, community representatives and non-profits in instituting programs and reforms. The two-hour forum discussed and debated the issues surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ”Juvenile Justice Services Close to Home Initiative”; the strategic plan for New York City’s Child Services Administration; and the fundamental approach to treating troubled juveniles in a way likely to produce positive outcomes.
While there was some disagreement among the group, all seemed to agree on two underlying premises: if child welfare services can be made more effective, there is a greater chance of keeping at-risk teens out of the juvenile justice system (i.e., of having them classified as actual offenders, and often incarcerated in some way), and programs that keep children closer to home are likely to be more successful.
Andrew White’s thought-provoking headcount: “We recently calculated that more than one-tenth of the city’s school-age children — more than 100,000 children — come into contact with either child welfare or juvenile justice services every year in New York City.”
Commissioner Ron Richter on his belief in hands-on “kitchen table” social workers: “This is not a long-term intervention. They come in, like a tornado, if you will, and they help the parent get control.”
Mike Arsham on the strength of communities: “I’ve come to believe … that there is great strength and wisdom and compassion even — and maybe especially — in the most economically stressed New York City communities.”
Gabrielle Prisco on striking while the iron is hot: “We have a moment where we have political attention, we have money, we have momentum, and we have people of good will.”
Listen to the complete forum at the link above. During the forum, Commissioner Richter showed a number of slides featuring statistical data from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS); the data from which these were derived can be viewed on the ACS web site.