Recent Data Shows More Work Must Be Done to Bring New York City Foster Kids Home Faster

Advocates, City Officials Host Symposium for Nearly 100 Child Welfare Professionals

NEW YORK – Two years after the release of an in-depth study of children who had spent long periods of time in New York City foster care, Children’s Rights — in partnership with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) — held a symposium today to discuss new data on the issue of long foster care stays and to gain valuable feedback from the nearly 100 child welfare professionals in attendance.

New data (PDF) provided by ACS and the New York City Family Court shows that while some progress has been made to reunify children with their families more quickly or find new adoptive homes if reunification isn’t possible, nearly 40 percent of children currently in the city’s custody have been in care for more than three years.

Today’s symposium, titled “The Long Road/One Year Home,” revisited the issues and recommendations outlined inThe Long Road Home: A Study of Children Stranded in New York City Foster Care (PDF) released in November 2009. Among many findings, that study reported that in 2008 the average length of stay for children who had been in the city’s foster care system for at least two years was nearly five and a half years – some having lingered in foster care nearly their entire lives.

The Long Road Home study was a call to action, which in turn spurred ACS to take significant steps in improving the city’s ability to bring children in foster care home to permanent and loving families,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “However, we cannot stop there. Far too many children languish in foster care in New York City without hope of going home to a stable family, and we must continue to work together to find new and innovative ways to fix this system for those kids.”

A mix of both promising trends and persistent challenges can be seen in the data released at today’s symposium, including:

  • Some children are still being stranded in foster care for far too long. As of February 2011, approximately 38 percent of children in the city’s custody have been in care for more than three years — a statistic that has remained essentially stagnant for an entire year.
  • The number of older youth staying in care for long periods of time has increased. The proportion of youth between ages 18 and 21 who were in foster care for at least three years has increased from 60 percent to 68 percent between February 2010 and February 2011.
  • Children are waiting too long to be adopted. While the length of time between when a child first enters foster care to the time they are adopted has declined slightly, the median time to adoption for a child who entered foster care in 2004 was still almost four and a half years.
  • The number of children in foster care has declined dramatically. Between 2004 and 2010, the number of children in foster care has fallen below 16,000 children — a 28 percent drop in just six years. And that trend continues through 2011.
  • More youth are being reunified with their families within a year. The number of youth reunified with their families within one year has increased from 34 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2009.

Symposium participants took part in discussion groups covering a variety of topics, such as how to better use data to improve outcomes for children, how to strengthen relationships with birth parents, and how to better support older adolescents in foster care.

Participants also received an opportunity to pose questions to a panel of child welfare experts, including Children’s Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry, ACS Commissioner John B. Mattingly, NYC Family Court Administrative Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, and other distinguished professionals. Steven Cohen from the Annie E. Casey Foundation moderated the two panel discussions.

Children’s Rights plans to take the feedback gathered from symposium participants, along with the new data presented, and issue a report of recommendations on how current progress can be maintained for children in New York City foster care, as well as thoughts on how new actions and initiatives could improve the city’s ability to meet the needs of its most vulnerable children.

To read today’s data reports or a copy of The Long Road Home study, and to find out more about Children’s Rights’ child welfare reform efforts in New York City and nationwide, please visit www.childrensrights.org/longroadhome.

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