By Sabina Mollot
Regular readers of this newspaper know that when the Administration for Children’s Services is mentioned in a story, as it frequently is, it’s because there’s been an arrest of one of the young people staying at the ACS children’s center in Kips Bay. Often, it’s an assault or robbery with multiple youths involved. The children’s center, located on First Avenue and 28th Street, is where individuals age zero to 21 are often placed when they’re removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. Another function of the ACS is to place the individuals in their care with foster families.
The need for local people to foster, as well as some new programming at the center aimed at keeping its occupants out of trouble (and ideally into a better future) was recently discussed by ACS Associate Commissioner Rebecca Chew.
Chew made her appeal for foster parents as well as for the understanding of the community while speaking at a recent meeting organized by the NYPD’s new Neighborhood Coordination Officers program for the 13th Precinct. The meeting, held on February 5 at the Alexandria Center’s Apella event space on East 29th Street, was geared towards people living in the northeast quadrant of the confines of the precinct, the neighborhoods of Peter Cooper Village and Kips Bay.
With more than a few people in attendance residents of Kips Bay — who complained about crime in the area perpetrated by young people they believed to be ACS residents — Chew began her presentation by pointing out that those in the agency’s care are often there “because of emergency circumstances.
“When there is no kin alternative (to parents) other than the foster care system.”
Three thousand unique babies, children, teens and young adults, who’ve been abused or neglected, come through the center’s doors each year. On any given day, 70 to 80 will be on the premises.
According to Chew, the majority of children who come to the center are placed in foster care within 72 hours. “It’s a very fluid population,” she said. “So we are always interested in recruiting more loving foster parents.”
Chew also spoke of improvements that have been made at the center, including the implementation of substance abuse consultants and a high school equivalency and internship program. She also mentioned the “strong” partnership ACS has with the NYPD including a safety committee formed in 2017 and so far a few meetings with the 13th Precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman.
“We’re looking to enhance it to make it safer for the kids in our care and to keep the community safe,” she said.
She also pointed out that the center is not a detention center or a locked facility. However, the center has enhanced its educational and recreational programming with the goal of making its older occupants want to stay there. This has meant recruiting “engagement specialists.” There’s also training for ACS employees to keep in mind that sometimes the kids may be involved in gangs or have been sex trafficked. Programming includes expressive arts, music, yoga, life skills and financial literacy for the older children and work with therapy dogs. In coordination with the NYPD, there’s also been a toddler brunch, where each child got a present. Basketball groups have also been formed.
“Not to brag but our team might have won the first round,” said Chew of the youth vs. cop basketball game. “But we’ll do a rematch.”
Following Chew’s presentation she responded to some questions and concerns from area residents.
One woman told Chew she regularly sees ACS youths in her building, including the night her car was stolen last October. Another neighborhood resident also reported that ACS kids are often seen in the building and asked if they had curfews. In response, Chew said they did, the times varying based on their ages. However, she also suggested they could be guests of someone in the building. When asked if any of the children had been separated from their parents at the border, Chew said no, because those cases would be handled by federal foster care, which is separate from New York City’s.
At the meeting, the ACS Center’s highest ranking employee, Captain Peter Femia, also spoke briefly to say the center does coordinate with the NYPD as well as the security team at the nearby Alexandria Center. However, he pointed out that it would be the 13th Precinct, not ACS police that would respond to issues that are outside the confines of its facility.