Investigation into ACS 'foster care panic' in NYC

Friday, January 27, 2017
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Jim Hoffer has the latest details.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The troubled Administration for Children's Services in New York City is now facing an avalanche of new challenges as it is being flooded with calls to protect kids.

When news broke last September that 6-year-old Zymere Perkins of Harlem had been bludgeoned to death with a broomstick, calls to the Administration for Children services spiked.

That led to a flood of new cases and a sudden rush to remove children from families in crisis into foster care.

"Case workers are terrified of having the next high-profile case on their caseload so they rush to take away a whole lot of children needlessly," said Richard Wexler, Child Welfare Advocate.

Wexler calls it foster care panic. And it appears to have happened after the death of Zymere Perkins based on numbers Eyewitness News has obtained.

In the three months after Zymere Perkin's death, ACS removed 822 children from crisis families and placed them in foster care.

That's up from 539 removals in the same period the year before, a huge 53% increase.

"A foster care panic is the ultimate child welfare mistake, it overloads the system, harms wrongfully removed and leaves workers less time to find children in real danger," Wexler said.

In the months that followed Zymere's death, five other children have died including Jaden Jordan in December and Michael Guzman this week.

The deaths happened as the caseload for child protective workers jumped significantly.

In 2015, the average case load was nine. Today, each case worker handles around 14 cases, a 54% increase in their caseload.

"Workers are so overloaded, they're not given any case the attention it deserves so they actually miss the children in real danger," Wexler said.

A spokesperson for ACS says that caseloads fluctuate depending on the number of calls they get. She acknowledged that after a high-profile case the number of reports received increases substantially.

The starting salary of a child protective specialist is $45,000 a year.