Members of New York’s nonprofit community mourned the loss of Nicholas Scoppetta on Thursday, remembering a lifelong public servant who made important and lasting contributions to child welfare and foster care services in New York City. He was 83.
While many New Yorkers will remember Scoppetta primarily for his leadership of the Fire Department of New York in the years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nonprofit leaders highlighted his work as the city’s first commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services. Scoppetta served in that role from 1996, when the agency was created under the Giuliani Administration, until 2001.
Scoppetta was no stranger to child welfare issues. In fact, as a child Scoppetta spent seven years – from age 5 to 12 – in foster care. “There are a lot of challenges, and I identify with the issues surrounding the cause,” Scoppetta told The Observer in 2013. “I think I know something about how to help them because of my own experiences.”
During his tenure at ACS, Scoppetta helped drastically reduce the number of children in foster care, from more than 40,000 to fewer than 15,000. He also founded a non-governmental companion to the agency called New Yorkers For Children, which focuses on improving long-term outcomes for foster care youth by providing additional education, career and counseling services.
Scoppetta described the work of NYFC as an essential supplement to ACS services. “Statistics have shown that 27 percent of those youngsters (aging out of foster care) enter the homeless system and another sizeable percentage that is harder to determine, ends up on the wrong side of the criminal system,” Scoppetta said in 2013. “We wanted to make these kids self-sufficient and help these youngsters get the education so that they get jobs and career possibilities. I have been convinced that training and education is extremely important in order to become self-sufficient and it leads you to meaningful work.”
Beyond his work with ACS and NYFC, Scoppetta was an integral part of the nonprofit community. In particular, he had a long-lasting connection to The Children’s Aid Society, serving for 18 years on its board, including a stint as its president and then chairman.
Below are remembrances that have come in from all corners of the New York nonprofit community:
"Commissioner Scoppetta was a mentor and paradigm changer. I would not have been nearly as effective had I not followed him. A true gentleman, skilled lawyer and dedicated advocate for children. I am blessed and better for knowing him." – Ron Richter, chief executive officer of JCCA, former ACS Commissioner
“We join hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in mourning the death of former ACS and NY Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta. Nick was a good man and a friend to all of us who care deeply about the child welfare system, and more important the children and families we serve. His strength, focus, and commitment to improving our services is both legendary and still of vital importance to us today. Nick stepped in as the first Commissioner of ACS in a very troubled time. His steady hand, knowledge and dedication were a huge win for all of us.” – James F. Purcell, chief executive officer of COFCCA
“Few people in this city’s history have given themselves so completely to making it a better place to live. From his work as the New York City Fire Commissioner to his leadership atop the Administration for Children’s Services to his lengthy legal service in a number of capacities at the federal and city levels, Mr. Scoppetta was relentless in his public service.” – Phoebe C. Boyer, president and CEO of The Children’s Aid Society
“Nick Scoppetta stepped into child welfare during a very difficult time in our system. His commitment to children and his relationship with the mayor allowed him to appropriate much needed resources for an overwhelmed system that was growing exponentially. He was a strong and compassionate leader with a clear vision for what needed to happen for children. Today’s ACS builds on his legacy and, like me, I think many of us in leadership today were deeply influenced by Nick Scoppetta. We will miss him.” – Dr. Jeremy Kohomban, president and CEO of The Children’s Village
“Commissioner Scoppetta is an icon and inspiration. He stood tall and firm for NYC's children when they needed him most. Nick inspired a generation of committed public servants who will carry on his legacy. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have learned from those leaders who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Nick. May he rest in peace after a life so very well lived.” – Jess Dannhauser, president and CEO of Graham Windham
“Nick Scoppetta was a true leader and public servant. A man of deep integrity, empathy, and intelligence, he drew on his personal experience in foster care and created and led our modern child welfare system, mobilizing government and the nonprofit agencies with a strong conviction that vulnerable children needed to be cared for in their own communities. His vision, commitment and dedication to our field are legendary. While he served our city well in numerous leadership roles, I remember him saying that the best job he ever had was leading the child welfare agency. We were so blessed to have him in this role. He leaves a lasting legacy in the countless number of lives he influenced and in the system of services he created. May he rest in peace.” – Sister Paulette LoMonaco, executive director of Good Shepherd Services