Leaders from across New York City government released a plan yesterday to significantly expand placements of foster youth with close relatives and family friends, along with 15 other recommendations for improving outcomes for foster youth.
David Hansell, the leader of the city’s Administration of Children’s Services and the plan’s lead author, announced the hiring of 10 new staff that will specialize in seeking out so-called kin care placements for foster youth, with the goal of increasing the portion of those placements from under one-third to nearly half by 2020. Also announced at the event was an expansion of after-school tutoring and programs for foster youth.
“This is a bold, ambitious plan for building on the remarkable progress we’ve made in improving New York City’s foster care system,” said Hansell in a statement.
Other recommendations included:
- Increasing the time biological parents get to spend with children whom the city has removed from their care due to abuse or neglect allegations.
- Hiring school guidance counselors dedicated to serving foster youth.
- Expanding a pilot program for cutting-edge, intensive support for foster youth with severe mental illness.
- Prioritize foster youth aging out of the system for placement in public housing, even if they are placed in care outside the city.
The 74-page report was authored by a 27-person task force created by New York City Council in late 2016, when the Council passed a raft of legislation aimed at overhauling the city’s foster care system. The bills came in the midst of a tumultuous year for the system, including multiple high-profile child deaths that led to the resignation of ACS’ then-chief, Gladys Carrion. The agency was also battling a lawsuit brought by Letitia James, the city’s public advocate and a member of the task force.
James endorsed her co-authors’ findings, calling the task force “a critical collaboration to ensure that no child in the foster system is ever left behind,” in a statement released to the media.
Stephen Levin, the chair of the city’s General Welfare Committee and another co-author, received a special shout out from Hansell in his introductory remarks for his sustained involvement. He reportedly spearheaded the 2016 legislation that led to this week’s report, and endorsed the committee’s findings: “I’m proud of all the stakeholders who participated in this exemplary and engaging process.”
The outcomes for foster youth in New York City and nationwide are grim. The high school graduation rate among foster youth is only half that of the city average, according to the task force report; nationwide, nearly half of former foster youth are unemployed, a whopping five times the national average. Many foster youth, especially as teenagers, live a life in flux, shuttled from foster home to foster home, waiting to be adopted or allowed to return to parents who have been accused of abusing or neglecting them.
That’s why, even though the task force recommendations focused on improving support services for those youth, the report emphasized the dramatic decline in the population. Since the early 1990s, the number of children in foster care has declined from roughly 50,000 to just under 9,000 last year.
To address the significant challenges those 9,000 face, leaders from across housing, health, education and other social service provider agencies, public and private, participated in creating the task force report.
The report was endorsed by the entire panel, though at least one member who has spoken to The Chronicle of Social Change so far expressed misgivings:
“If you really wanna be successful, we have to stop looking to do things after the fact, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. I want to see a task force that prevents children from going into foster care, and rethinking what foster care looks like,” said Joyce McMillan, the executive director of the Child Welfare Organizing Project, which supports parents who are under investigation by the city for child abuse and neglect allegations.
Many of the recommendations in the report can be enacted unilaterally by ACS, whose chief led the task force. But provisions that require cooperation and cost-sharing with other agencies, including the city’s housing, education and mental health departments, might involve extended negotiations.
Ed note: The task force co-authors’ efforts was partly funded by the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, which has made charitable contributions to The Chronicle’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections.