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Reduction in Group Homes Changes City’s Foster Care System

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TWC News: Reduction in Group Homes Changes City’s Foster Care System
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Last year, the city's foster care system cost $432 million. It's a system that has slowly transformed in the past decade, as more kids stay with their parents as the city looks to phase out some group homes. Courtney Gross takes a look at where foster care may be headed.

Patrick's childhood has not exactly been a slam dunk.

“I was in jail for two and half years,” said Patrick. “I was living on the streets because my father was a little abusive to me.”

Patrick turned to the city's Child Welfare Agency.

They sent him 20 miles from Midtown to the Children’s Village, one of 32 agencies charged with taking care of kids whose parents, for one reason or another, just can't.

"This campus is an emergency room where we treat you, we stabilize you and we get you back into community,” said Jeremy Kohomban of the Children’s Village.

But this so-called emergency room, large residential treatment centers or other group homes, are no longer the go-to.

"The optimal place for us is to make sure kids are staying connected to their community,” said Benita Miller of the Administration for Children’s Services.

Meaning as the foster care population falls, the city wants to keep kids with their parents or with a foster family. So since 2005, they have been phasing out contracts, closing group homes, removing beds at larger facilities.

There are now less than 1,000 kids in group settings, a third of the population compared to just eight years ago.

"We have 24 beds in our mother child program and we used to have about 36,” said Alan Mucatel of Leake and Watts Services.

Multiply that reduction and you get an entirely different system.

"We want them in care for shorter period of time,” said Mucatel.

The kids that end up in foster care present an entirely different challenge.

"I didn't care where they were going to take me, anywhere is better than where I was coming from,” said Jose, who is in foster care.

They are older. They stay in the system longer. They may have behavioral issues.

"At first, I didn't want to be here. I mean, every normal teenager, they don't want to be somewhere. But once they start being around the people that care about them and help them, then I started to like it,” said Patrick.

Some advocates now question whether the city has an issue with capacity, whether it shut down too many beds for foster kids. But the city says this trend will likely continue.

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