Step Six: Finding A Home
Once ACS has decided to remove a child, the child welfare system must find a place for them to live. A placement recommendation is made by the agencies that are assigned the case, and placement decisions are monitored and reviewed by ACS.
A child could be placed in a private home with foster parents; this occurs in about half of cases. About a third of cases involve kinship care, when a child moves in with another family member. All foster parents, whether related or not, are screened by ACS for suitability, but there are questions about how effective that screening is.
Different rules apply: In non-family foster care, a child may share a room with another family member, for example, while in non-family care, the child must have her or his own room.
In nearly all foster care cases, ACS says, the agency strives to keep children within their home communities, so that familiar routines like school and crucial social relationships – friends, religious communities, extended family – can be maintained. Ideally, the child would be placed with a relative to minimize stress and disruption for the child.
In practice, however, children are often placed outside their family or their neighborhood – because it's an emergency, because no other "beds" were available when the need was acute, or because the child has specific needs that no local home could offer, as is the case for children in therapeutic foster homes, which aim to address sexual abuse and exploitation, for example. Children may be required to change schools midyear if they are not placed in the community.
While ACS strives to keep siblings together, in practice it can be difficult to find placements for multiple children in single homes, and siblings are often split up, with provisions made for visiting but limited actual contact.
Older children may be placed in group homes, where adult staff are on premises but may not live full-time in the group home. However, efforts are underway to increase home placements for teens and reduce the number of group home beds.
Still other children are placed in therapeutic foster care settings – to cope with sexual abuse, for example, or with the effects of mental illness – or in medical care settings, for medically fragile children who require more intensive care than can be provided in a home setting.
Some of the children for whom ACS must find homes are not the victims of abuse, but have been designated as a "PINS" (Persons In Need of Supervision) by a court. PINS designations are sought by parents or guardians asking the state to take charge of their youngster, often because a child is "out of control" or criminally involved. PINS petitions are not part of the ACS child-welfare complaint and disposition system, but PINS kids are placed by ACS staffers, often in therapeutic foster homes or in residential (group) homes with strict monitoring.
In 2009, the year for which most recent statistics are available, just over a third of the 16,000 New York City kids in foster care were placed with family members; 45 percent were placed in "traditional" (i.e., unrelated) homes.