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It came as a surprise to Executive Director Art Zanko that his 60-year-old foster care agency, Edwin Gould Services for Children, lost out on a $2.4 million city contract to provide beds for children in foster care in the Bronx this year. But he wasn’t alone in the mystery. This year, for the first time in the history of the Administration for Children’s Services, contracts for foster care services are being made on the basis of competitive bids. Private agencies that have been caring for the city’s foster children for decades must scramble to prove they can meet new standards for neighborhood-based services. Trouble is, they’re not sure how ACS is making its decisions.

ACS announced in February which agencies had won Bronx foster care contracts. The agency didn’t explain how or why it chose the Bronx winners, but confidential ACS charts obtained by City Limits reveal some aspects of the contracting process. According to one, 30 agencies applied in the Bronx. Their proposals were rated, with the agencies ranked accordingly: All the top 19 scorers won foster care contracts, with one exception: Edwin Gould Services, which ranked 11th.

Zanko said he hasn’t a clue about what was wrong with his proposal, and ACS hasn’t told him. “Apparently, there are city procurement rules that don’t permit ACS to reveal reasons why you didn’t get funded,” Zanko said. “They have to wait until the ones who were funded are registered.”

Other foster care providers are confused, too. Meg McLaughlin, executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said she’s been fielding phone calls from worried providers trying to figure out what the results of the Bronx round mean. “They’re running around asking, ‘What was the basis for the decisions, what did we do well or not do well on?'” McLaughlin said.

The foster care providers are concerned because the process is now starting up again for contracts in the remaining four boroughs. Last week ACS held a bidders’ conference, and the applications are due in mid-June. Zanko was there, along with 400 other potential bidders, and said he picked up a few pointers. He said he hoped to make up the difference for the lost contract–about one-third of his budget–in the next round.

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