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New York City's new neighborhood-based child welfare system will take its first official step forward next week when city nonprofits submit plans for providing services in the Bronx.

At stake is $184 million in city contracts and a place on the ground floor of what city officials have staked out as a new, decentralized future for the long-troubled Administration for Children's Services (ACS).

The city solicited proposals from nonprofits to create community-based foster care and family support programs in June. The new system, due to go online next year, will handle more than 9,000 foster children in the borough, providing a network of integrated services and foster homes almost completely contained in a family's home neighborhood. In the fall, ACS will offer similar contracts for the other four boroughs.

The deadline has apparently galvanized many nonprofits. “I think people feel overwhelmed that this is really happening,” said Athena Moore, a policy analyst with the Bronx Borough President's office, which held a July meeting to provide technical assistance on the topic. More than 100 nonprofits attended, many of which are now formalizing or creating an official link with Bronx-based programs, she added.

“Agencies see the writing on the wall, and they're moving aggressively, looking for locations in the Bronx,” said Luis Medina, executive director of St. Christopher's Jennie Clarkson Child Care Services. “I think that's a good thing. Services close to home are more effective.”

Last year, St. Christopher's opened Bronx Family Central, a “one-stop shop” for everything from dental care to substance abuse counseling–many of the services are provided in concert with other local social service agencies. Even so, Medina said his organization is looking to link itself to an even wider array of services.

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