In March, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services(ACS) canceled its almost $700,000-per-year contract with You Gotta Believe, an adoption recruitment agency focused on finding homes for older youth, to the dismay of many in the adoption community.
Earlier this week, the administration reiterated its position, citing new numbers meant to illustrate the agency’s inability to deliver the targets it promised.
With the administration so entrenched, You Gotta Believe and a similar adoption recruitment agency – the New York Council on Adoptable Children – are soliciting support from the private sector.
Since the cancellation, which cost You Gotta Believe about 40 percent of its budget, the agency has restructured its operations to continue providing services.
“We are not deterred,” said Susan Grundberg, executive director of the agency. “We are working new partnerships with foster care agencies who are committed to improving their permanency outcomes.”
Part of the strategy to recoup the lost revenue is a star-studded benefit next week. Celebrities including Tina Fey, Kristin Chenoweth and Rosie O’Donnell will appear at 7 p.m. EST, June 29 at the St. James Theater in New York City for the “Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids” benefit concert. A crowd of more than 1,600 is expected to attend, according to James Wesley, a host and organizer of the event.
“I hope the benefit will help You Gotta Believe continue its much-needed services,” Wesley said.
Wesley and his husband Seth Rudetsky received foster parent training last year from the New York City Council on Adoptable Children, an adoption recruitment agency that also had its contract with ACS cancelled in March. The council will also receive funds from the benefit.
After Rudetsky found that ACS was cancelling the agencies’ contracts he started a Change.org petition, appealing to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to reinstate You Gotta Believe and the Council on Adoptable Children’s contracts.
To date, the petition has 5,957 digital signatures. One of the signatories was Gretchen Beidl, a foster parent trained by You Gotta Believe in 2013
“My husband and I would’ve failed [fostering children] had it not been for the support You Gotta Believe gives,” Beidl said. She and her husband are now benefactors for “Voices for the Voiceless.”
“They are the best at connecting teens, older youth, with parents,” Beidl said.
ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión responded to the petition in online statement in April.
“The fact that these contracts ended will not disrupt or reduce ACS’s capacity to serve [older] children,” Carrión said in her reply.
Carrión’s statement also explained reasons why ACS cancelled the contracts, giving figures of each agency’s failure to meet contractual obligations. Specifically, Carrión noted the low number of children the agencies placed in 2014.
You Gotta Believe and the Council on Adoptable Children issued press releases giving their very different tabulations on the number of youth they had placed. Both agencies questioned the methods ACS might have used to determine its figures.
Susan Badeau, an author and the president of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (unrelated to the New York Council on Adoptable Children), agreed that how the organizations categorized and counted placements might have affected the figures.
“Unfortunately different organizations, states and counties can count these things in different ways,” Badeau said.
This can lead to inconsistencies in methodology, Badeau continued, and eventually discrepancies in the statistics.
This week, in an email sent to The Imprint, ACS supported Carrión’s original statement even more forcefully, citing a more detailed breakdown of numbers.
“In 2014, YGB was contracted to find 80 foster and adoptive homes, they only found 41,” McKniff said in the email.
“And of the 41 found homes, it has been reported that the quality of their homes studies did not meet many of our foster care agencies’ standards,” McKniff continued. “This resulted in some homes not receiving placement or being closed after they were transferred to the foster care agencies.”
The New York Council was contracted to find 50 homes for older youth and found 35, McKniff said.
To decide how ACS will progress, the administration created a recruitment advisory committee, comprised of adoption provider agencies, community advocates and youth in foster care. It will recommend ways the administration can improve efficiency.
“The solution will probably not be in small contracts with agencies recruiting small numbers of families,” McKniff said in his email. “This is a large, system-level challenge and we are working aggressively to make substantive changes that will achieve more meaningful results.”
In response to ACS’ statement, Grundberg referenced You Gotta Believe’s press release that cited “as many as 90 children and youth having been placed” in the last contract year evaluated.
“We’re disappointed,” Grundberg said. “We’ve shared data that paints a very different picture about our results.”
However, Grundberg said, the contract cancellation will not stop You Gotta Believe from moving forward.
Meiling Bedard is a journalism intern for “The Imprint” and a junior at Boston University.