In November 2002, Chief Judge Judith Kaye attended the National Adoption Day festivities in Albany County and New York County (Manhattan). Although pleased that 600 adoptions were being finalized statewide on this special day, she was concerned to learn more than 6,000 other children were free for adoption but had not yet found permanent families. Judge Kaye reached out to New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) Commissioner John A. Johnson and New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) then-Commissioner William Bell to come together and begin a discussion to identify and resolve systemic barriers to adoption. At a press conference in May 2003, Chief Judge Kaye, Governor Pataki, New York City Mayor Bloomberg, and Judges and Commissioners representing counties from across the state announced the Adoption Now initiative that set a goal of finalizing adoptions for 5,000 children (3800 in New York City and 1200 upstate) by the end of 2003.
To implement the Adoption Now workgroup initiative, a multicounty, multidisciplinary workgroup2 was formed. The workgroup was comprised of OCFS regional and central office representatives, Family Court Judges and other local court staff, including NYS Court Improvement Project staff representing its two pilot sites, Buffalo, (see Figure 1) and New York City (see Figure 2), representatives of the Office of Court Administration (OCA), New York City ACS staff, and county social services district (DSS) representatives. Representatives from OCFS and OCA cochaired the workgroup. The Adoption Now workgroup was charged with identifying and ameliorating systemic issues that impeded the expedited finalization of foster care adoptions. Meetings were held monthly via videoconference from court and OCFS sites, with at least four areas participating across the state.
Collaboration was hard-at least at first! Participants came to the workgroup with opinions of the other members' systems and work performance in those systems, including preconceived opinions of the inadequacies of each other's work. This was based at times on a lack of understanding of the other systems. Until working relationships were established, the workgroup struggled to address issues proactively and come to agreement on resolution of issues. As time went on, the tendency to point fingers began to lessen and real accomplishments were achieved.
Differences in regional practice across the state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction were also taken into consideration and resolved. New York State local social services districts range in size from ACS, that provides services to the five boroughs of New York City (population 8,104,079), to small, rural Hamilton County (population 5,227.) The New York City Family Court has more than 50 judges presiding in courts in each borough, while the sole family court judge in Hamilton County is a so-called "triple-hatter," presiding over county criminal, surrogate, and family court matters.
Adoption Now was launched during the same period that OCFS was implementing the New York State Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) Program Improvement Plan (PIP) to address issues identified in the child welfare system during the federal 2001 CFSR. One strategy of the New York State PIP was to improve collaboration between local DSS and family courts through a number of activities, chief among which was the provision of cross-training events for family court and DSS personnel. The court/agency training committee worked with the Adoption Now workgroup to assure that the work of both groups was coordinated and complementary.
Ultimately the workgroup formed subcommittees to develop various projects. Subcommittees used early morning telephone conferences and email to advance the work. Some of the products and ongoing initiatives of the workgroup will be described in this article.
This initiative was advanced with no new funds or personnel. …