Children's Voice May/June 2008

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New York City's Steps Towards Reform

Reforming practice within New York City's Administration for Children's Services in child protective cases involving domestic violence has been a "bumpy road," says Deputy Commissioner Liz Roberts.

The process of building the capacity for this reform was well underway when Sharwline Nicholson filed her lawsuit, Nicholson versus Williams, but Roberts says the training being done on the issue was not enough--training is just one tool and if it is the only tool, impact will be marginal. A comprehensive strategy for practice change was needed and developed from 2000 to 2005. The key elements identified for improving practice were: policy, training, expert consultation, managerial reviews, and quality assurance/ quality improvement.

ACS came to identify core strategies essential to their practice approach:
  • routinely screening for domestic violence in all child abuse investigations;

  • assessing safety and risk, case-by-case;

  • conducting safety planning with victims to effectively achieve child safety in most cases;

  • emphasizing holding abusive partners accountable; and

  • making safety interventions, including child removal, when necessary to ensure child safety.
The following are the critical policy and practice changes enacted:
  • Domestic violence consultants work in each area office and have been integrated with substance abuse and mental health consultants.
  • Family conferences are used as a problem-solving tool.
  • Domestic violence protocol includes interviewing the abusive partner.
  • Family court practice emphasizes batterer accountability.
  • Higher-level review is made on case decisions.
"This work is really challenging," Roberts says of domestic violence and child welfare reform. "Any agency that commits to making these kinds of practice changes needs to see it as a long-haul effort and really resist the temptation to say, 'okay...let's move on to the next issue.' In order for the work to be good-quality work there needs to be ongoing, consistent attention to it."

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