This three-part series takes a deep dive into New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the agency tasked with protecting the safety and well-being of the city's most vulnerable children. The series sheds light on the agency's lack of transparency when it comes to cases where a child under its watch dies. Despite a 1996 law aimed at making ACS more transparent, the agency in recent years has stopped disclosing details about these cases, which prevents the public from understanding what went wrong and how the system can be improved to prevent future tragedies. Even the city's Inspector General, the Department of Investigation, has recommended that ACS be more transparent.
One of the tragedies the series highlights is the drowning deaths of three siblings in September 2022 in Coney Island, allegedly at the hands of their mother. ACS had prior cases involving the children, but the agency has not disclosed why it was unable to protect them. This lack of transparency is particularly concerning to experts and advocates, as it hinders the public's ability to hold the agency accountable for its actions and ensure that it is doing everything in its power to protect at-risk children.
The series also delves into a five-week stretch in 2021 when four children were killed in separate incidents, despite ACS having files on each child. Nearly two years later, the agency still has not disclosed what went wrong, what it learned or how it has changed to prevent such incidents from recurring. These cases underscore the need for greater transparency, so that the public can learn from worst-case scenarios and improve the system.
Finally, the series explores the child welfare system in neighboring New Jersey, which has been operating under a federal court monitor for the last 20 years. Data shows New Jersey's outcomes for children are far better than New York’s, suggesting that the city’s system can — and should — be improved. In summary, the series reveals how ACS operates under a veil of secrecy, despite recommendations for greater transparency. Without transparency, it is difficult for the public to hold ACS accountable and ensure that it is doing everything possible to fulfill its mission of protecting and promoting the safety and well-being of New York City's children.