Foster children find homes through the New York Foundling.
by reporter Evelyn Cheng
MANHATTAN — As Americans celebrate National Foster Care Month this May, New Yorkers are reminded of the ongoing needs in child welfare.
One night in 1869 the Sisters of Charity put a basinet behind the screen door of their building. When they awoke the next morning, they found a baby in the basinet. From this incident the New York Foundling was created.
In 1999, pediatrician Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, then the Foundling’s medical director, established the Fontana Center for Child Protection. The goals of the center are to supplement the work of the Foundling with research, professional staff training, community education and advocacy efforts.
Charles Caputo, director of the Fontana Center, works most closely with youth development, which helps about 350 youth between the ages of 14 and 21.
“The job of that department is to make sure that those youth … have the skills that they need to be successful adults and not transition to bad adult systems,” Caputo said.
In conjunction with the Fontana Center, the Foundling provides prevention programs through which unstable families can improve the home environment so that their children can stay at home.
If the city’s child protection services believe that a child is or might be suffering abuse at home, the child is referred to the Foundling for placement. These children will then be matched to an appropriate foster home, group home or residential home. Foster parents are carefully screened for their motives and for their ability to provide adequate resources.
The Foundling is just one of many foster placement agencies throughout the state. Daniel Knapp, from upstate New York, shares the experiences of many children at the Foundling although he did not work through organization. He was placed in a foster home at the age of nine. “[It was difficult] being disconnected from my siblings,” Knapp said.
However, Caputo said his organization’s “No. 1 goal is to try to get those children back with their families because children should be with their parents; that’s the best place for children. We try to see if we can put the family back together.”
With this goal in mind, the Foundling prefers to place children in foster homes rather than in residential homes. Regardless of the situation, Caputo emphasized that “children need to be in stable permanent housing” and have the support of a responsible adult.
Knapp agreed that, having experiencing trauma at a young age, foster children “need a supportive system and a network of peers to guide them and hold them through.”
Understanding this need for stability, the Foundling tries to keep foster children in the same communities and also explores placement with the children’s relatives, or kinship placement. Kinship placement accounts for about 50 percent of all foster family situations. But if the biological parents terminate their rights to the child, that child may be adopted.
Knapp’s mother gave up her rights when her son was 12.
“I was very fortunate,” Knapp said, “I was adopted by my foster mom.”
Today, fewer children are in the foster care system than three years ago, but the horrors of child abuse still occur. Foster children also experience lower graduation rates than other children despite the greater amount of resources devoted to them. Recently, however, Caputo said he has found scientific, evidence-based programs that dictate how to raise foster children with predictably high success rates.
Unfortunately, as the Foundling and Fontana Center attempt to institute these costly programs, New York has been cutting its child-welfare budget. These organizations will have to rely on other donors if their programs are to succeed.
On the other hand, Knapp, who now works in foster care in Philadelphia, said he has shifted from a psychological analysis of foster children to viewing it as more of a cultural problem.
“[Being a foster child] is not something you recover from,” Knapp said, “but you use your experience as a source of resilience.”
Reporter Evelyn Cheng can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- New York Foundling
- Fontana Center for Child Development
- New York State Office of Children and Family Services
- Evidence-Based Programs
Agencies Carefully Screen Potential Foster Parents
Many thanks to the staff of the Fontana Center for Child Development, the Heart Gallery and the Children’s Aid Society for their assistance.