Instead of sending juvenile delinquents to detention centers, social workers will be sent to their homes under a new program the city is rolling out in an effort to lower the number of minors in confinement.
The Administration for Children's Services is launching a program next month under which 380 youths will be eligible to receive at-home care instead of being sent to private and state-run detention facilities.
With a rising number of juvenile cases in New York City and high rates of recidivism, officials said the initiative targets repeat offenders by providing an alternative to detention: evidence-based models of social service.
With a price tag of $11.5 million, the initiative could also save the city millions, officials said. Currently, the city spends some $120 million a year to pay for children placed in residential treatment facilities through the state's Office of Children and Family Services.
"There is no silver bullet for this problem. Some kids are going to have to be placed and some kids allowed back in communities will screw up," the deputy commissioner for the division of Family Court Legal Services at ACS, Ronald Richter, said. "But we know the current course in New York City is not working."
Some critics raise questions about keeping potentially violent youth in the community, while others are concerned that home-based services could keep children in the environment that contributed to their behavior.
The New York City law department receives thousands of juvenile arrest referrals each year, and that number is rising. In 2005, 9,711 juvenile cases were referred to the department, up 17% from 7,255 the year before. That number was 7,011 in 2003,
While officials said recidivism rates are harder to track, the Department of Juvenile Justice documents youths who are readmitted to the agency's custody, either on the same case or a new one. In fiscal year 2006, 43% of the 5,973 juvenile offenders and delinquent's remanded to the department's custody had been readmitted. In fiscal year 2003, 5,138 youths were remanded, with a 46% readmit rate.
Officials said most juvenile cases they handle intersect with ACS. "They're the same family, they really are," Mr. Richter, who represented children in Family Court for more than 13 years prior to joining ACS, said. He said Family Court judges often send children back into city or state custody to prevent them from returning to potentially dangerous or unhealthy home environments.
According to Mr. Richter, the initiative was designed for "repeat, chronic, violent youth offenders." Under the program, eligible youth will receive Multi-Systemic Therapy Extended Care, one of three evidence-based programs used nationwide. In some settings, children will receive "Blue Sky," a hybrid of the three models. In both cases, social workers will spend 10 to 20 hours each week with the child's family.
As part of the initiative's initial launch, New York Foundling was awarded a two-year contract to serve 100 youths with the "Blue Sky" model. It is the first time the hybrid model is being attempted, officials said.
"The goal is to keep teenagers out of institutional care," the agency's executive director, Bill Baccaglini, said. "The logic to these models is, by working with the kid in the context of his family, we're more likely to stabilize that family for the long term."
Asked if the youths could present a threat to public safety, Mr. Baccaglini said actively psychotic children and sex offenders would not be admitted to the program. Officials said eligibility for the program also would be at a judge's discretion.
Most youths placed in detention facilities were charged with property and substance abuse crimes, Mr. Baccaglini said. "You always have to be concerned for community safety, but I think you need to take a wider view here," he said. "Here's the plea. If the system were working, you wouldn't need to try Blue Sky. But 80% of the kids placed in institutions get rearrested within three years of getting out. We have to try something new. The system is broken."