UNWATCHFUL EYES: CITY LAX IN CARE OF GROUP HOME KIDS

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If there is no place else left to go, girls in the city’s foster care system find their way back to places like Hegeman, a “transitional” safe haven for teenagers run by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

But the East New York group home, like many other similar facilities run by the city’s huge child welfare agency, is neither safe nor a haven.

In the November City Limits, available on newsstands this week, reporter Wendy Davis finds that children in the city’s charge spend their nights on the streets buying drugs, drinking and stealing off for sex with neighborhood men- sometimes in front of disinterested city workers. “This place is called ‘Hegeman Ho House,'” says one 16-year old resident, adding that there is “a little bit of truth” in the name.

A local cop puts it differently: “There’s a serious, serious lack of supervision. What’s happening is that the girls are allowed to come and go as they please….The staff would call and report four or five of them at a time as missing persons. It was a strictly cover-your-ass situation to the people in charge.”

Last year, some 4,500 children in the care of ACS’s Services were placed in group settings. Most of them went to homes run by private agencies that contract with ACS, but about 1,300 passed through the 30 group facilities run directly by ACS, according to agency officials.

But lawyers, law enforcement officials and the teens themselves say these homes–which are supposed to provide a safe nurturing environment for some of the city’s most fragile kids–are little more than poorly run homeless shelters. And none are worse than the homes operated by the agency itself, such as Hegeman.

On the outside, the kids get into trouble; on the inside there is little structure, supervision, meaningful educational programs, counseling, or guidance.

In fact, City Limits has obtained a recent survey of the foster care system which found that almost half of the children in ACS-funded group homes failed to meet the children’s fundamental, medical, mental health and dental needs. It is difficult to get ACS’s side of this story. Despite repeated attempts over a six-week period, agency officials refused to comment to City Limits about allegations of mismanagement and lack of supervision.