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The number of foster care children living with relatives has dropped steeply during the last few years as kinship care falls out of favor with city and state officials, according to a new report published last week by Child Welfare Watch, a project of City Limits’ sister organization, the Center for an Urban Future.

Over the last five years, the city’s monthly placements in kinship care dropped from 31 percent of the total number of foster care placements to fewer than 10 percent, according to state Department of Social Services data.

This is a dramatic change in a city child welfare system that has long embraced the placement of children with relatives if parents can no longer be trusted to care for them. Extensive national research shows kinship care to be valuable in easing the trauma of removing children from their parents, the report says. It is also an effective method for keeping siblings together after a family break-up, and for eventually reunifying the parents and children.

Last year, Governor Pataki sought to place a one-year time limit on kinship care, arguing that needy families caring for their relatives’ children could qualify for public assistance benefits instead of foster care subsidies.

The Center presented its findings and recommendations for child welfare reform at a full-house forum on Wednesday at CUNY Graduate Center.

The report also found that city child protection workers are sending far fewer children and families to neighborhood-based foster care prevention programs than they did under previous mayoral administrations. These programs are designed to help stabilize families with substance abuse treatment, counseling, intensive casework and other social services. But recently, city caseworkers have been removing children from homes more quickly, and the network of preventive services is instead being used mainly by families referred by school officials, physicians, and others.

The report says the city should be using prevention programs for the families that need them most: those threatened with losing their children to the authorities.

“There’s never been a city policy of any sort to refuse preventive services,” responded Julia Rothwax, spokeswoman for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. She said agency researchers are looking into the decline in referrals.

For a copy of Child Welfare Watch, call (212) 479-3353