Step Five: Deciding Whether To Remove A Child
The first decision in an indicated case is whether a child may safely remain at home.
Participating in the decision, via a Family Team Conference, are ACS representatives, child protective services staffers, staff of the private agency handling the case and the child's family. Some conferences include the children at the center of the case, especially when they are 10 years old or older. (The average age of a child in foster care in New York City is 10.)
In indicated cases when ACS decides to permit children to remain at home, families are directed to participate in preventive services, like substance-abuse counseling or homemaking services, for example, and their compliance with the caseworkers' recommendation is monitored over time. Court orders are secured in some cases to force families to participate in assigned services. The services are provided by private, nonprofit agencies under contract with ACS and the city. Caseworkers at the contract agencies stay in regular contact with families receiving preventive services, calling or visiting the home at least twice a month until the case is closed. Families with prior histories of indicated ACS complaints receive more visits than families new to the system, and in-person visits ramp up when young infants are involved.
When children are judged to be at too great a risk to stay in the family home, ACS can remove the child from the home. In some cases, when injuries or abuse are extreme and obvious, ACS immediately removes a child from the home. In other instances, a decision is reached by consensus over the two-month evaluation, giving agency workers time to identify a place for the child to live.
The human factor:
While some situations are so stark that the decision to remove a child from the home is straightforward, more often, ACS and agency workers must assess a range of factors to inform their decision. The agency's desire to keep families whole and the potential psychological toll on a child who might be separated from family, friends and an extended community must be weighed against possible risk the child will be harmed. The decision is also shaped by the availability of foster-care and preventive services resources in the home community: One agency might be able to provide robust family support (permitting a child to stay at home), while another might be better able to house a child separately than to intensively support a struggling family (and the child is removed). And of course, some communities suffer more abuse than others: In New York City, the Bronx and Brooklyn lead the five boroughs in child-abuse complaints and in "indicated" cases.