KIPS BAY — The city is moving teenagers out of a troubled foster care center that families say is chaotic and overcrowded and will hire an outside company to provide a new home for the kids, officials said.
The Administration for Children's Services currently houses children from birth to 21 in a single foster care facility at 492 First Ave., which has been plagued by problems including bullying and theft, as DNAinfo New York previously reported. The city filed nearly 1,600 missing persons reports with police for kids who ran away from the Children's Center over 13 months, and parents and teens have spoken out about the poor conditions there.
Now, the city is splitting up the facility, moving out all children ages 14 and older by next summer, according to ACS spokesman Chris McKniff.
ACS has already begun transferring some of the older teens to a new 12-bed center on Long Island that is run by the nonprofit Mercy First, starting earlier this month, McKniff said. And the city is searching for a company to run an additional 30-bed foster facility for the teens.
"While the average length of stay at the [existing] Children's Center is fewer than five days, a handful of older teenagers with high needs stay there for longer periods of time," McKniff said in an email to DNAinfo.
"ACS recognizes that the needs of the young adults in the foster care system are distinct from those of the young children. To ensure that all youth are receiving age-appropriate services, ACS has, in partnership with foster care provider Mercy First, opened an annex to the Children's Center."
The city is also planning to open a larger, 30-bed facility next summer, called The Older Youth Reception Center. It will offer on-site education, health and mental health services, as well as programming, according to a request for proposals the city issued Dec. 4.
To run the center, the city is looking for a foster care provider that can handle teens who have been in and out of foster homes and may have a history of drug or alcohol use and severe emotional or behavioral problems, according to the Request for Proposals. Responses from interested companies are due Jan. 8, 2015.
Like the existing Children's Center, the new facility will house teens who have been taken away from their parents because of neglect and abuse, or because their parents voluntarily put them in the foster care system.
In September, DNAinfo reported on the issues plaguing the 55-bed Children's Center, including indifferent staffers who told kids to leave if they were not happy there, teens said. Advocates also raised concerns about the city's policy of getting arrest warrants for children who disappeared, allowing the NYPD to track down kids who ran away and bring them back to the facility in handcuffs.
Another issue at the Children's Center was that it had been operating without the appropriate certificate of occupancy, which is legally required for the building to be used as a shelter for children. The city was hit with a Department of Buildings violation after converting the building to the Children's Center in 2001, but ACS officials say they are working on fixing the problem.
Some were skeptical that breaking up the Children's Center into multiple facilities would improve conditions for foster kids in New York City.
"Maybe [moving them will] help the kids, maybe it won't," said Rosemarie Rutigliano, whose 17-year-old daughter was placed in the Children's Center last February and has since been able to return home.
"It really depends on the people who work at the new center though," she added. "If there's one person who can make a difference to those kids, then that would be good."