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Social worker dedicates her life to the safety of Brooklyn children

Abstract: New York City social worker Joan Cleary has been working for decades to improve the lives of Brooklyn children.

News 12 Staff

Mar 3, 2023, 5:43 PM

Updated 475 days ago

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In celebration of Women's History Month, News 12 is highlighting a social worker who has spent the last 30 years improving the life and safety of Brooklyn children.
Working with kids was always in the cards for Joan Cleary.
"I spent a lot of time as a young adolescent babysitting, working in after-school programs, so I knew I wanted to continue my work with children," she says.
That calling led her to the Administration of Children's Services, working there for now 30 years. She started her career as a case worker in the late 1980s.
Ten years in, she went back to school to get a master's degree in social work while also caring for her own children. For the past seven years, Cleary has been overseeing the Division of Child Protection in Brooklyn West.
"As a mom working in this field, I was able to understand parents and some of the struggles they have and some of the decisions they make," she says.
As Cleary climbed up the ladder, she witnessed the agency transform.
"In my early years working in the agency, we had more than 40,000 kids in foster care and today we have only 7,000 children. That has a lot to do with how we invested in preventive work."
Some of the changes came partly in response to tragedies and criticism over the disproportionate number of Black and Latino families involved with ACS.
In the last decade, she says ACS has revamped its prevention program and expanded its CARES approach for low-risk cases, which is a less arbitrary alternative to a formal investigation.
Cleary's ultimate goal is to improve the lives of New York City children.


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