When children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care, it's because a decision has been made that their parents are currently unable to take care of them or unable to keep them safe. But even though those children are relocated to a safer environment with a foster family, imagine the trauma such an event entails - and the questions a child may ask: Will I ever be able to go home again? When will I see my parents? How long will I stay where I am until it's time to pack up and move to a new foster family?
Child Success New York City, an innovative program launched by New York City and implemented by several foster care agencies, aims to improve those children's lives, by providing greater stability while they're in foster care and a greater likelihood that they'll be able to return to their natural families. To date, this program has shown very promising results and could prove to be a model for the future.
Here's how the system has worked traditionally: A 10-year-old child - let's call him Tom- would have been removed from his home when it was discovered that his mother, who was a drug addict, was leaving him alone with nothing to eat for long periods of time. Tom would be placed in a foster home, enrolled in school, taken care of by that foster family and looked in on from time to time by a caseworker. After a time, though, that family might find itself no longer able to keep Tom and he'd have to be reassigned to a new foster home, maybe in a different neighborhood, and have to adapt to a new home, a new family and a new school.
The City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) wanted to see if they could do better and unveiled 'Child Success NYC' an evidence-based model for working with children in foster care, their foster parents and their biological parents, to improve outcomes for the children. To be considered evidence-based, a program must have a minimum of two high-quality, rigorous scientific evaluations, a positive impact sustained for a minimum of 12 months, and independent replication. Child Success NYC is modeled off a program that was originally developed by the Oregon Social Learning Center and represents the first time ACS has applied evidence-based practices to foster care in New York City.
As part of this program, we work intensively with children, parents and foster parents and track which methods are most effective. We work with birth parents to cultivate the parenting skills to become effective parents for their children. At the same time, a social worker is helping the child's birth parents address their own challenges and struggles (e.g., substance abuse and mental health, housing and employment). We also support foster parents; increasing the likelihood a child will enjoy greater stability and fewer transfers and reassignments to different foster homes over time, which takes a tremendous toll.
Under a program like Child Success NYC, Tom's mother would receive support from staff using evidence-based strategies to improve her parenting and be much more likely to be able to take care of him in the future. At the same time, the foster family taking care of Tom would receive more evidence-based parenting support, making it less likely that Tom would have to be moved to another home.
Thus far, the program has shown compelling results. A test group of 2,000 children who participated in Child Success NYC were 11% more likely to return home compared to their peers who received traditional services. That means there are many more children than usual who are back with their families, or in a permanent home who otherwise might be continuing in foster care.
While Child Success NYC is one of a number of initiatives the City has undertaken to reduce the foster care population, it is certainly contributing to the reduction of children in foster care in New York and we look forward to continued innovation and success.