David Hansell
Commissioner, NYC Administration for Children’s Services

The following is an excerpt. To download Reflections on Child Welfare Areas of Practice, Issues, and Service Populations, Volume 2, click here.

Diversity is what makes New York City one of the greatest cities on earth—and is why I’ve made it my home. But behind the vibrancy of the skyline, Times Square, the traffic, and the sports teams lie tremendous disparities that touch every aspect of life in the city, from health care to homelessness to poverty to involvement in the child welfare system. And these disparities are extremely pronounced when we look across the five boroughs, particularly along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, and income.

While many New Yorkers are flourishing, far too many are not. Home to over eight million people, including 1.7 million children, 16% of the total population is living in poverty (Citizens’ Committee for Children 2020). While 10% of White New Yorkers were living in poverty, 19.4% of Black New Yorkers and nearly 21% of Latinx New Yorkers are struggling below the poverty line (Citizens’ Committee for Children, 2020).

I have spent my career working to address these disparities while striving to improve outcomes for New Yorkers and beyond: at Gay Men’s Health Crisis during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; on the state level, at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, where we expanded income and vocational support programs; in the Obama Administration at the Administration for Children and Families in the aftermath of the Great Recession; and in other capacities. Since March 2017, I have been the Commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), New York City’s child welfare agency. Last year was a particularly difficult one—and 2021 continues to be, as we grapple with the global COVID-19 pandemic that has highlighted and exacerbated the deep-rooted, pernicious effects of racism in our society.

ACS seeks to administer equitable child welfare and juvenile justice systems in which a child or family’s race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation do not predict how they fare. Within New York City and nationally, Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic families long have been overrepresented at key points along child welfare pathways. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016; Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 2008). I strongly believe that tackling this problem requires ACS to take a critical look both inside our agency and at our policies, practices, and impact on communities of color.

Since becoming Commissioner, in addition to strengthening our work to protect children and support families, I’ve been very focused on addressing the racial disparities that exist in the child welfare system. Building on ACS’s longstanding commitment to promote racial equity throughout the child welfare, juvenile justice and early child care systems, I created the Office of Equity Strategies in 2017, because I believe it is crucial to have dedicated staff who are focused specifically on addressing inequity, disparities, and systemic racism, both internally at ACS and externally in our work within communities.

David A. Hansell was appointed Commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services in February 2017. Commissioner Hansell has committed his career to serving vulnerable communities and expanding opportunity. Over the course of his career, he has worked for non-profit, government, and philanthropic organizations on a diverse array of health and social services policy and advocacy issues. From 2009 to 2011, he served as Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He has also served in prior governmental positions in New York City and New York State. Commissioner Hansell is a graduate of Yale Law School and Haverford College.