Q: : One hundred days into the de Blasio administration, what are your priorities for ACS?
A: It’s been an interesting and challenging first 100 days. We have the opportunity to deepen the work we started at state [where Carrion served as the commissioner of New York’s Office of Children’s and Family Services]. I knew the agency well in my oversight role, but it’s never the same until you get here. It’s a very hectic place. There’s a lot of competing interests and challenges, but it’s good work. There are lots of challenges, particularly the child fatalities. Obviously, those tragedies are incredibly difficult, for someone walking in [to the leadership] and for the agency. It’s always challenging to deal with those very difficult situations so early on.
Q: Have you identified any particular short-term goals?
A: Absolutely. I think my vision really speaks to looking at our work through a different lens – the lens of child well-being.
Q: But wasn’t that the mission of ACS prior to your leadership?
A: It’s not that it wasn’t. But it’s a totally different lens. Our priority always has been safety and permanency. And what we measure, particularly because of funding requirements from the feds, requires measuring system goals – but we’re not measuring how the children are doing. Are they going to school? Are they reading at grade level? Are they going to high school, are they taking algebra? All those really important decision points that assure a pathway to success.
Q: Metrics around student achievement have been available for a long time. Have they not previously been a priority for ACS?
A: It’s not a metric that we capture as an agency; it’s difficult to look at what we are doing to improve outcomes for children. We’ve done well reducing the number of children coming into [foster] care, and we’ve spent a lot of time around keeping children safe. Those are important pillars of child well being. But really asking, how are children doing? – it’s our responsibility to create the conditions that improve those outcomes. My goal, across all our clinical components, is to understand the impact of trauma in the lives of these children and their families. What are the right interventions; how do we mitigate their impact? Gaining a better understanding of brain development, all so we can create a trauma-informed systems
Q: Have you moved from the abstract to the practical? Are you talking with providers about what trauma-informed care looks and feels like?
A: It’s not abstract at all. We’ve instructed agencies to use a trauma-informed assessment tools. We’ve begun training in the juvenile justice system. I’m trying to make sure that as a system, we and our partners understand trauma, that we have the tools to do the assessment, and that everyone has a model grounded in evidence and science. I want to make sure our system is grounded in the science of what works.
Q: How does ACS maintain and assure the quality and integrity of ACS work out in the field?
A: That’s an everyday focus and challenge. We have dedicated staff whose responsibility is oversight. We have a scorecard; we sample cases and review them. People go out and observe.
Q: But when something terrible happens, it’s the nonprofit subcontractor and the caseworkers who are held accountable – not ACS.
A: ACS is always responsible. There’s always a system response. There are times when workers might not be doing the best work – but if you take a deep look, system challenges contribute to that. And then, you have situations where the workers have all the tools and still, bad things happen.
Q: We’ve read that an algorithm for foster care placement is scheduled to go live in 2014.
A: We’re still working on that; it’s not been finalized at all. It will help us capture the number of beds available, where they are, what their capacity is. It will do better and faster matching of children and young people [with beds in foster care].
Q: Why is a computer going to be more effective than a human being?
A: We don’t know that it will be better; we’ll see, we’ll see. But we see inefficiencies now. At any point in time, we don’t have a total picture of where the beds are. You have to be calling round: "Who has the beds?," asking the agencies, "Do you have a bed? What kind of bed do you have?"
We need better tools. We need better data- and case-management systems. Most of our work is not automated, we need to be able to have that.
Q: Some time ago, I was surprised to learn that caseworkers’ software systems don’t communicate easily across city and state networks. The networks don’t talk to each other. Is that still true?
A: Yes. A huge, huge amount of work needs to be done there, much to my surprise. If you ask me what surprised me about coming in here, it’s the lack of technology and tools. I wonder, how could you do your job? Could you imagine, trying to do the work? When I need information, people have to manually retrieve it. Really? At this age and state of what we know? That’s huge. We need an infrastructure that supports, promotes, and facilitates the work.
Q: ACS is in a unique position in Family Court, as both advocates and adversaries, depending on the particulars of the case.
A: We’re always advocates for kids. I would never say that we’re not. That advocacy can take different forms and be perceived differently, depending on what hat you wear. If I was a defense counsel or representing a parent, , I’d look at it from a different lens. But from an ACS lens, we are protecting children. We evaluate risk. If the child is not safe, we will remove that child. We are advocating for the best interest, preserving the safety and well-being, of that child.
Q: Early Learn is an ACS school-readiness program for very young children. How will it mesh with universal preK?