By Anthony Kane, Christina Jensen and Maria Arcel

Fewer children are being placed in foster care, in New York State, than ten years ago. According to data from New York State, there has been a 38% drop of children in the foster care system, from 2004 to 2014. An average of 29.656 children, in care in New York state, were in the foster care system in 2004, while an average of 18.488 children, were in the system in 2014.

Kathleen J. Ledesma, Director of Adopt US Kids, has been working in the child welfare system for 40 years. Ledesma believes that there are different contributors forcing these changes, one of which is that there has been an increased focus on helping the families who have problems to create a better environment, as opposed to placing children in the system.

“A greater effort has been made over the last five years to deliver service and support to families that are in crisis, to prevent the removal of the children from their home,” says Ledesma.

Alma J. Carten, an associate professor at the New York University School of Social Work – and formerly a New York City child welfare official agrees. Carten believes the main reason for the decrease is that the prevention services have been improved.

“Earlier a lot of children were unnecessary going to foster care. But now the focus is on prevention. The prevention services, such as abuse and counseling services, has increased while the numbers of children has decreased,” Carten explains.

The NY State Office of Children and Family Services, has been working to improve the situation within NY’s foster care system. The office wants to keep children out of the system and with their family, however possible.

“New York State provides an uncapped funding stream to local social services districts for programs aimed at keeping children in their homes,” said a press representative from OFCS. “The state reimburses counties at 62% after deducting any available federal funds, combined with a capped foster care allocation, this provides a financial incentive to counties to develop a community-based infrastructure of services including case management and home-based supports.”

To some, this may seem like good development, however, it might not all be positive.
Kathleen J. Ledesma points out that the children ending up in the foster care system are staying there for a longer time, than earlier. States and countries now have limited resources to help get the kids out of the system, than they used to.

With these limited resources, comes a higher turnover rate of employees, since there has been a drop in funding. Thus leaving the same levels of children, with less available options through the system.

“So we see caseloads that are not being covered, that ends up meaning that children are in care longer,” said Ledesma. “They are still using the resources but are not getting all the social work that they need to have, along with the financial support to address their safety.”

Even though the numbers are showing that children may end up in the foster care system longer, Alma J. Carten believes the numbers are showing a generally positive development. Considering that there are fewer children within the system.

“It is complicated, but the bigger picture is that it is a good thing, that fewer children end up in foster care,” said Carten.

According to research performed at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children in foster care are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. One in four foster care children were diagnosed with ADHD, compared with only one in fourteen kids not in foster care. About 50 percent of the ADHD diagnosed children, in foster care, also suffer from other disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

Therefore children in the system need more care, than children outside of foster care.
According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the US foster care system needs to do a better job providing consistent quality healthcare to the children in foster homes. Caseworkers don’t spend the necessary time on health care, and treatment, for the children – even though 80% of the children have a “significant mental health need,” according to AAP.

Despite the research, experts, like Alma J. Carten, are not convinced that it is the amount of treatment that’s causing the problem.

“The children need a lot of care, and I think they are getting the right amount they need,” said Carten. “But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be issues with the quality of that care and treatment.”

Due to these problems, NY state was required to hire professionals to serve as watchdogs of the New York City foster care system, in order to settle a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that children in foster care endure irreparable harm after lingering too long without permanent families. This occurred after several advocates, for foster children, had found that children, in New York State, spent twice as much time in the foster system as children throughout the country.

The ‘professional team,’ hired in NY includes a monitor and a research expert. The monitor will keep track of any mistreatment of foster children for a period of three years. While the research expert has been retained for a minimum of a two-year time frame, and will conduct yearly reviews of case records for compliance.

New York State’s situation, having children remain in the foster care system longer, isn’t a unique situation, in the U.S. Numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, and the Administration for Children and Families, show that fewer children have exited the foster care system within the last five years, throughout the country. In 2014, there were 264,746 children entering the foster care system but only 238,230 exited.

“That just confirms that there is a need for foster care”, says Ledesma from Adopt US Kids. But that there’s obviously “a need for more resources.”