City revokes RFP for foster care group

By Patrick Donachie

An organization that has previously contracted with the city to help place children in foster care lost the opportunity to open a new center in Far Rockaway after the city revoked its request for proposals to develop the site.

News of the revocation follows recent allegations of sexual abuse against some staff in facilities supervised by the organization, according to Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder’s (D-Ozone Park) office.

SCO Family of Services operates 80 programs in 120 locations across the city, according to its website. Until recently, SCO worked with the Administration for Children’s Services to find appropriate homes and facilities where ACS foster children could live.

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska received a letter on April 11 from SCO, notifying him and the board of the organization’s intent to open an agency operated boarding home for foster children at 1329 Cornaga Ave. The letter said the children would be placed with SCO by the ACS and that the facility would include six beds for youth ranging in age from 16 to 21.

“When I got the letter, we were upset,” Gaska said, noting that the board was frustrated by what it thought was an oversaturation of supportive services in their district. “It seems like whenever the city has a problem, they come to Community Board 14.”

He was also disturbed by recent news that SCO had continued to send foster children to a Long Island man after they had been warned by Suffolk County authorities that the man was suspected of sexual abuse. Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu was charged March 18 with abusing seven children in his care. In addition, a staff member at The Christopher School, an SCO-supervised facility in the Bronx, was charged with inappropriately touching a student at the school. According to a spokeswoman for the ACS, the organization discontinued sending children to SCO foster care homes on March 28.

Gaska said the letter SCO sent him was the first time the board had heard about the organization’s intent to develop 1329 Cornaga Ave. He reached out to several elected officials, including Goldfeder, who wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking for the city to halt the request for proposal released by the city in light of the allegations. Late last week, Goldfeder’s office learned that the city had revoked the RFP for the site, which an ACS spokeswoman confirmed.

“The Administration for Children’s Services had previously issued a procurement for Specialized Residential Care. However, in order to ensure that the procurement will result in services that best serve high-needs youth, we canceled this RFP and are in the process of redesigning a new one,” she said, while asserting that the decision to redesign the RFP was not related to the allegations against SCO. “We will seek input from providers and other experts as we prepare a concept paper in advance of a new RFP.”

The spokeswoman also confirmed that ACS would not place foster children with SCO-supervised facilities or homes until ACS completed an internal investigation. ACS representatives will be visiting all foster homes supervised by SCO and will work with the 26 other foster care agencies contracted with the city in order to place additional children.

Gaska reacted with tempered optimism and noted that the RFP could still be re-enacted.

“The RFP has been pulled. It doesn’t mean it can’t come back,” he said. “So we were very concerned and we remain concerned.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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