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Wanted: Brooklyn Foster Homes

Community-Based Foster Care & The Crisis It Has Created For Jewish Children

By: Tzivy Ross  

Imagine that you are 7 years old, and you have just been taken away from the only home that you have ever known, by strangers that you have never even seen before. Imagine that you only have the clothing on your back, that you are scared, alone and do not know what is going to happen to you. You are taken by these strangers to a new house in a neighborhood not your own. These strangers introduce you to a friendly-looking couple, and tell you that they will be your new foster family. You cry yourself to sleep at night, looking forward to the light of the morning, where at least you can return to your familiar school and your familiar friends. 

Now imagine that morning has come. But instead of being able to go back to your old school, you are told that because you now live in a new neighborhood, you will have to attend a new school. Instead of returning to play and find comfort with your old friends, you will have to make new ones. 

You have just lost your family. Now you have also lost your neighborhood, your school & your friends. You have lost your community. 

The scenario described above has unfortunately been all too real. In Ohel’s Milton Schulman Foster Care Program we place Jewish children in need of foster homes due to abusive, neglectful or unsafe conditions in their homes. Yet because of the severe shortage of foster homes, despite our best efforts we have not always been able to place children within their communities of origin, severing their ties to critical sources of support in their neighborhoods. 

Community-Based Foster Care 
The city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has recognized the detrimental effects of placing children outside of their communities of origin. They have therefore instituted a plan to reform the child welfare system by mandating community-based foster care. 

Community-based foster care means that every child welfare agency must place foster children into foster homes that are situated within the same Community District (CD) that they originally lived in. For example, a child who lives in K-12 (Kings-12) ie; Boro Park, may only be placed in a foster home that is situated within K-12. In an exceptional circumstance, a child may be placed into a foster home from a CD which borders his or her original CD. Under no circumstances may a child be placed into a Community District that is outside of his or her larger neighborhood. 

In the Best Interests of the Child 
This new regulation is certainly in the best interests of foster children within the larger NYC child welfare system. Children placed into foster care are often traumatized as a result of the neglectful and abusive circumstances that they were exposed to at home. Yet at the same time, they experience great pain at being separated from their families. They tend to internalize this feeling and blame themselves for the separation, often believing that they caused their situation and are unlovable in some way because they can’t live with their families like other children do. Being placed outside of their community exacerbates this feeling, causing the belief that they are being punished because they were "bad" in some way. One foster child described her feeling of shame at being a foster child in the following way: "It’s like going outside and your clothes aren’t matching, and you feel like everyone is staring at you, and pointing at you and laughing at you." 

A great deal of our work in Ohel’s Milton Schulman Foster Care Program is to help our children alleviate their feelings of shame and self-blame, normalize their experiences and help them feel good about themselves again. This is most easily accomplished if the child’s environment is normalized and maintained as consistently as possible. Ideally, a child who is taken away by ACS from his or her home should be allowed to heal and thrive within the neighborhood, school and community that he or she is accustomed to. This is the goal of ACS and that is the goal of Ohel. 

No Exceptions 
The challenge that has been created by ACS’ well-intentioned policy of community-based foster care is the following: If any agency, including Ohel, is unable to locate a suitable, licensed foster home within the child’s neighborhood or a contiguous neighborhood, then the child will be placed within another agency that has available homes within the child’s neighborhood. For example, if a Jewish child from Brooklyn requires a foster home and Ohel is unable to locate a foster home that is willing to take in that child from Brooklyn, then Ohel is no longer permitted to place that child in a foster home within another community such as Queens or Staten Island as an alternative. What this means is that a Jewish child can potentially be placed into a non-Jewish foster home in another agency. 

There are multiple factors to consider when making the placement of a child into a foster home including the age/gender of the child requested by the family, the type of child requested including consideration of special needs/behavioral issues, the availability of space for sibling groups in a foster home and religious compatibility between child and foster home. This is in addition to the new mandated requirement of placement within the child’s neighborhood. Taking into account the many factors listed above which contribute to locating a suitable foster home for a child, it has become increasingly difficult to accommodate Jewish children in need of foster homes due to Ohel’s lack of foster families. Ohel is particularly experiencing a serious shortage of foster homes in Brooklyn, which is the community from which most of our children originate. 

We Need Your Help 
We are therefore appealing to the community to recognize the vulnerable position that Jewish children in need of foster care have been placed in. These children deserve and need to be placed within their communities. Ohel is striving to accomplish that goal; yet we can not do it on our own. We need families within the Jewish community, especially those living in the Boro Park, Flatbush, Crown Heights, Seagate, Staten Island, Kew Gardens and Forest Hills neighborhoods to come forward and become an Ohel foster family. 

Ohel foster parents receive extensive training and ongoing guidance and support from our professional staff during the certification process and when a child is in their home. Ohel foster parents receive a monthly stipend for the care of their foster child. For more information about becoming a foster parent, please contact Shulamit Marcus or Aliza Sokol at 718-851-6300. We eagerly await your call.

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