Top New York Child Welfare Advocate Joins Government

Stephanie Gendell, a veteran advocate with  Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, has joined the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. Photo courtesy of Justice Policy Center.

Stephanie Gendell, a key strategist behind recent legislative victories for child welfare advocates in New York, has joined the ranks of government.

Gendell, who was previously the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC), started last week at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the city agency responsible for juvenile justice, foster care and other support services for struggling families. She’s joining an external affairs team that has been overhauled under ACS Commissioner David Hansell.

Gendell “is one of the most influential and effective advocates for children and families in New York,” reads an internal ACS memo on her hiring obtained by The Chronicle of Social Change. The memo also states that the Harvard Law School graduate will be responsible for “advancing ACS priorities through legislation and policy at the city, state and federal levels and through collaboration with other city agencies.”

As an associate commissioner for intergovernmental and interagency affairs, Gendell will work with public officials across the state, especially on efforts to place more foster youth with relatives or family friends, and to move 16 and 17-year-olds off Rikers Island in line with the state’s “Raise the Age” reforms.

The hiring came during a summer of increased pressure from outside officials on the agency, which had experienced relative calm since Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Hansell in early 2017. In June, longtime ACS critic Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, sent a critical letter to Hansell, soon followed by revelations that a man convicted of murder had been working at an ACS group home for foster children in Manhattan since before Hansell’s appointment. Sheila Poole, acting commissioner of the state’s child welfare agency, the Office of Children Family Services, sent her own blistering missive to Hansell as tabloids railed the agency.

Gendell spent 12 years with CCC, a venerable children’s rights advocacy group founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. She became a fixture in City Hall, occasionally testifying in Albany and advising New York’s United States Senators as a child welfare expert. Before that, Gendell worked as chief of staff to two ACS executives.

“In just a year and a half, Commissioner Hansell has done so much to strengthen the NYC Administration for Children’s Services: preventive services have expanded, the number of frontline workers has increased and the number of children in foster care continues to decline,” she told the Chronicle in an e-mail. “That’s why I think it is such an exciting time for me to be back at ACS.”

Gendell helped lead the coalition of activists that convinced Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to propose landmark legislation raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, which he signed in 2017. Representing CCC, she also influenced the state’s decision to hire 25 more family court judges, easing the over-capacity system’s chronic delays, and helped fight off a proposal to cap state funding for New York City’s support programs for families at risk of losing their children to the foster care system.

All of these efforts involved a large, diverse collection of advocates, but Gendell was a frequent spokesperson in the press and with elected officials, and a top legislative strategist behind the scenes.

“During her time at CCC, Stephanie became known around the state as the go-to person on child welfare policy,” said Kari Siddiqui, senior policy analyst at the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, and a frequent advocacy collaborator with Gendell. “She has an incredible wealth of knowledge on both policy and practice, and is an tireless advocate for the children and families who come into contact with New York’s child welfare system.”

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 39 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change