NEW YORK CITY — The city's Administration for Children's Services has failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse, violating its own policies and placing thousands of children at risk, according to an audit by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Stringer sampled 25 ACS cases from July 1, 2013 to May 1, 2015 and found that regular, required meetings occurred in only one case. In one of the worst instances, ACS had no contact with a possibly abused child for 31 days.
In another example, ACS workers were supposed to meet every other week with a 15-year-old girl whose father allegedly grabbed her by the hair and slapped her before throwing her mother to the floor and choking her.
Instead, ACS workers did not meet with the teen for almost a month.
“After years of horror stories about children dying under their care and pledges by ACS to reform itself, our audit uncovered an unchanged agency, rife with mismanagement and bureaucratic inaction, Stringer said in a statement.
"No child should have to spend a single night in an unsafe home and it’s government’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen."
This is the second such report to find the ACS has failed to meet basic minimum safety standards. In May, the Department of Investigation warned that the agency had reached a system-wide failure, leading to the deaths of two children under its watch and the near-death of one more.
ACS handles 60,000 reports of child abuse each year and there have been 30 deaths of children under its care over the last decade, Stringer found.
Nevertheless, supervisors failed to review high priority cases — those where a fatality was involved or where the families have four or more previous interactions with the agency — in two-thirds of the cases reviewed.
ACS also failed to do a required domestic violence review in 16 of the 25 cases sampled, Stringer found. In six of the cases, no screening apparently took place and in 10 others, the review was started but never finished.
Half of the 25 cases reviewed involved domestic violence.
Workers for the agency also failed to keep notes which would allow supervisors to determine if cases are being properly managed. There were no notes in 20 of 25 cases reviewed and the other five cases deemed to have insufficient notes.
To make matters worse, ACS is also unaware of what it needs to do to solve its problems, Stringer said. ACS employees told auditors that the 10 to 12 cases handled by each caseworker was too much to properly investigate each case.
ACS officials have said that caseworker's loads are manageable, but auditors found there was no data to support that belief.
Stringer said the agency needs to better follow its own guidelines and fully investigate each case in a timely fashion. The agency also needs to review whether it has enough staff to handle its caseload.
ACS disagreed with the audit's findings. The 60,000 reported child abuse cases represent 80,000 children and 25 cases is an extremely small sample, ACS officials believe.
"It is important to note that in each of the 25 cases that the comptroller reviewed, the children involved are safe and the families have received appropriate services," said ACS spokeswoman Carol Cáceres.
The agency is also in the process of hiring 500 more child protection workers and supervisors. ACS recently opened two new offices, in Brooklyn and The Bronx, where most of the cases are located and hired 300 additional child protective staff.
The average caseload of child protective workers is 10.2, below the agency's target of 12 and within guidelines from the Child Welfare League of America.
The Casey Family Programs plans to do a full analysis of ACS' policies and procedures for keeping children safe. The agency is also creating a $12 million Workforce Institute to train 5,000 child welfare staff.
Stringer said ACS' disagreement with the audit is part of the problem.
“Children are being left to suffer in abusive households and, in the face of this damning audit, ACS has the audacity to claim that everything is under control," said Stringer.
"With our children’s lives at stake, we simply cannot let this go on any longer."