Council Member Stephen Levin's Opening Remarks - Child Abuse and the Various City Touchpoints


Good Morning. I am Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare. Today we are joined by representatives from ACS, DHS, NYPD, DOE, OCDV, the Children’s Cabinet, union representatives, advocates, providers, and parents to hold the hearing: “Child Abuse and the Various City Touchpoints.” I want to thank our Speaker for joining us for this important hearing.

As Speaker Mark-Viverito outlined, Zymere’s life was tragically cut too short, and today we are here to discuss how City agencies are working together to provide families with assistance, and how to prevent future tragedies. 

As we do a deep dive today into City agency policies and reforms, interagency coordination, and recommendations for moving forward, we must not lose sight of the fact that a family lost their child. 

Today is Halloween, and millions of children across the city will be trick-or-treating with their families, but Zymere will not. As Zymere’s story eventually fades from the headlines and we move on to other issues, his family must continue to endure a tragic loss. Zymere is remembered by those who knew him as an articulate, playful, and loving child who “had a smile that would captivate anyone’s heart.” 

The other thing we cannot lose sight of during this discussion and through the implementation of new policy reforms, is that the majority of families involved with the child welfare system are caught up due to allegations of neglect. While some children are abused by their parents or guardians – and those children may need to be removed from their families and placed in appropriate and safe foster care placements – most families are involved with ACS because they face issues generally tied to poverty. For example, we know that being unable to secure adequate housing for your family can lead to a multitude of other challenges and approximately 25% of the families living in DHS family shelters have an open case with ACS. 

Today, we will discuss how City agencies are working together, or failing to work together, to address child abuse and neglect. Families involved in the child welfare system are frequently engaged with several agencies – such as the Department of Education, the Police Department, the Department of Homeless Services, and the Human Resources Administration.

When preparing for this hearing, advocates and providers who work with families consistently told us about the difficulties their clients face when trying to navigate a myriad of systems with complicated rules and requirements. Families may receive conflicting mandates, and must travel to seemingly endless appointments to keep their families together. While some are able to connect with skilled legal services organization that can help navigate these processes, not everyone has access to that help. One major question we want to address today is how the City plans to help reduce those burdens so that more families can succeed.

I look forward to hearing from ACS and the other agencies here today about implementing the recommendations announced earlier this month, and from providers, advocates, and parents about their thoughts and experiences in relation to those recommendations. After today’s hearing, we aim to maintain an open dialogue to ensure that the policy changes are not simply a response to one tragedy, but address systemic challenges in an ongoing manner.