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When the city’s Administration for Children’s Services announced last spring that it would start using a neighborhood-based system for foster care and adoption services, child welfare advocates were delighted. By running the system with a geographical focus–e.g. keeping kids who live, go to school and have friends in the Bronx in Bronx houses–the transitions in and out of foster care should be easier for kids and their families.

But a handful of child welfare organizations that focus on kids with special needs-like Orthodox Jewish children, or teen parents-worry they’ll get shut out by the new regionally-based contracting process. That new scheme, to be put in place this winter, offers only a few contracts to citywide groups, mostly for programs that serve disabled children.

“How can a Chinese-speaking family living in the Bronx access preventive care if there are no caseworkers that speak the language or understand their culture?” asked Yim King Tsui, director of Asian Family Services for the Chinese-American Planning Council, at a recent City Council hearing on the contract process. “Looking at the [contract] from a minority client’s perspective, services will be totally cut off.”

Another small program, the incarcerated mothers program run by Edwin Gould Services for Children, provides support for kids whose moms are in jail. But according to program director Sister Mary Nerney, the new contracting process might make it impossible for their $300,000-a-year ACS grant to be renewed.

Nerney said its “ridiculous” that incarcerated mothers won’t be considered a specialized population. She explained that the group helps children and mothers deal with the particular stresses of jail visits, arranging day care, housing, and after-school programs for the family taking care of the child, and acting as a go-between with the corrections department. “There’s no way every preventive services program could do what we do,” Nerney said.

“Specialized agencies will have to make alliances with general providers,” countered ACS spokesperson Leonora Weiner, who acknowledged that neighborhood- based agencies may need the help of specialists. Wiener suggested that, under the new system, organizations like Nerney’s might be able to subcontract with geographically-based agencies.

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