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Nursery at Children's Village
7.26.02
Society and Community:
The Last Hope
More on This Story:
Q&A with a Foster Care Workers


Watching out for the welfare of America's children is a massive undertaking. Part of that undertaking is finding good stable solutions for each child. We spoke with Rachel Pratt, Director of Parent Recruitment and Expedited Permanency for the New York City Administration of Children's Services about her life in working in "the system."



Q: How did you get involved in the child welfare system?

Partially chance, partially design. I have a master's degree in non-profit management, and had been working in non-profit organizations since I graduated from college. I learned about a position at the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS)— New York City's child welfare organization — through a colleague, and was immediately interested.

It wasn't until after I'd been at ACS for some time that I began to understand the personal connection that child welfare has for me. Experiences in my own childhood have given me a level of identification with children and families that I might not otherwise have.

Q: What have been some of the hardest days and best days you've had?

The hardest days are when I feel powerless to accomplish what I believe is right. I had a day like that recently. While I'm not normally involved directly with children and families, sometimes situations are brought to my attention and I try to help out. This situation involved trying to find a permanent home for a 16 year old. Staff working directly with the young man were immersed in the day-to-day affairs of his situation that they didn't seem to me to see any larger picture. I imagine they thought similarly of me. But the point is that we weren't communicating, and it was the youth living in a group facility with no permanent family who was caught in the middle.

Best days are many: when adoptions are finalized; the day about a year ago when a therapist at a group home told me about a 15 year old who now had a family because of the work my staff had done; every moment when I stop doing paperwork and instead take time to listen to foster parents, parents, and youth; the day the Mayor of New York City recognized the importance of recruiting and retaining foster parents and increased ACS's budget to do that work, and on an on, every day that I'm able to help my staff do the work they do so well. There are many very good days.

Q: I hear the turnover in this line of work is quite high — tell me what keeps you in the trenches.

Turnover of staff working directly with children and families is quite high. It is an incredibly tough job. ACS has instituted higher pay, training, and other initiatives to decrease turnover rates for line staff.

I've been with ACS for nearly six years. Among my peers, I'm a relative newcomer. There are people who have truly devoted their lives to children and families. And they are the most amazing, dedicated, and intelligent people I know.

I stay because this has been the most re-warding and challenging job I have ever had. I've never been bored, and I can't imagine having a day here that I don't learn something new. Most important, though, at the end of every day I feel like what I do is important in some larger way.

Tell me about the special programs you have for hard-to-place children.

First, let me say that we have a tremendous need for both foster and adoptive parents. There are approximately 27,000 children in foster care in the five boroughs that make up New York City. Most of these children will return home to their biological parents and need foster parents who will care for them temporarily and also facilitate the reunion with their families.

Approximately 20% of the children in foster care will need to find permanent homes through adoption. The majority of children adopted out of New York City's foster care system are adopted by their foster parents.

Despite this success at early placements into adoptive homes, however, there are many children less fortunate. Approximately 800 children right now are freed for adoption and not currently in homes that intend to adopt them. The average age of these 800 children is 13, with a range from four years of age to 21. More than half of the children needing adoptive homes are boys, and more than 80% are African-American or Latino. Most have been in foster care for several years.

We have several initiatives that are helping us to find foster and adoptive homes for the children in care.

  • In September, ACS will launch a media campaign in several high-needs neighborhoods around the City to recruit and retain foster parents.

  • Last fall we launched Circle of Support, neighborhood-based foster parent support groups which we hope, in addition to supporting foster parents, will help us to both recruit new foster parents and better retain current foster parents.

On the adoption side we've created terrific partnerships to find homes for children:

  • ACS's annual adoption event, NYC Adopt: Finding Families for Children will be held in Central Park's East Meadow (97th Street and 5th Avenue) from 11am-4pm on October 5th. Wendy's and the Dave Thomas Foundation play a large role in this event.

  • Every Wednesday on NBC during the 5pm news, Wednesday's Child features children who needs an adoptive home. This program is in partnership with NBC and the Freddie Mac Foundation.

  • On the first Sunday of every month children who need adoptive homes are also featured in a DAILY NEWS piece called "A Child is Waiting."

  • Prospective adoptive parents can also see photos and read biographies of children through Meet Our Kids, the searchable database in ACS's website (www.nyc.gov/adopt).

Q: Where can people go for more information about becoming a parent?

Prospective foster or adoptive parents can call ACS's Parent Recruitment Hotline at 212-676-WISH (9474) or toll-free outside of NYC at 877-676-WISH (9474).

Or, they can inquire through our website: www.nyc.gov/adopt or www.nyc.gov/foster. For other information or to learn more about ACS, visit the main portion of the ACS website at www.nyc.gov/acs.

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