Since being selected in May to be part of the city Department of Human Services’ new model, Catholic Social Services has been readying to serve youths in the 2nd, 7th and 8th police districts.
CSS has been meeting with DHS officials since being awarded the contract. By Oct. 1, it is expected that CSS will have case managers, supervisors and administrative support in place. By mid-October, those hires will begin eight weeks of training.
“We’ll be getting our first clients in January,” said Joe Lavoritano, director of youth services for CSS. “We’re duplicating DHS in the community. Our workers have to mirror what DHS workers do. It’s a fairly intense eight-week training. We’ll be all ready to hit the ground running on Jan. 1.”
Back on May 12, DHS announced a transition to a system in which community-based organizations manage the cases of the city’s most at-risk youths. The new model is called Improving Outcomes for Children. While CSS will serve youths in three of the Northeast’s four police districts, Center City-based Turning Points for Children was recently chosen to serve those in the 15th Police District. In selecting CSS as a Community Umbrella Agency, DHS is counting on the agency’s more than 200 years in providing services to children and families in the Philadelphia area. In all, CSS serves about 165,000 clients a year in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties.
Lavoritano co-authored the proposal that led to his agency’s selection.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” he said. “This is a real big deal. Catholic Social Services has been a dominant provider of social services. We’re localizing services. We’re going to revolutionize how services are delivered.”
Anne Marie Ambrose, the DHS commissioner, said her agency is happy to turn over case management to experts who live and work in the communities they serve.
The decision to revamp Philadelphia’s child welfare system followed tragic cases in recent years in which there was a lack of coordination between DHS and agencies it had contracted with to provide services.
That dual-responsibility setup led to a lack of accountability when something went wrong. Now, while DHS will provide oversight, the sole responsibility lies with the community-based organizations. That’s fine with CSS.
“It’s a major undertaking to recreate the Department of Human Services at the local level,” Lavoritano said, “but we feel absolutely confident doing it.”
DHS and the agencies selected share the belief that children do best when they live with their family.
Jim Amato, the deputy secretary of CSS, said his agency will monitor a child’s health, school attendance and living conditions.
Parental groups will be formed, and CSS will remain in constant communication with families. There will be one case manager for each family.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for Catholic Social Services,” said Amato, a Morrell Park resident. “Any child who becomes known to the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, the child and family in need of services will in effect be turned over to us. This will enable us to be right in the community we’re serving.”
CSS will set up offices at the Immaculate Mary Home, at 2990 Holme Ave.; New Foundations Inc., a foster care agency at 7210 Rising Sun Ave. in Burholme; and CORA Services, at 8540 Verree Road in Fox Chase.
“We have the majority of the Northeast, and we’’ll have a local office in each police district,” Lavoritano said.
Lavoritano explained that CSS might be able to provide a grant to a family whose heater breaks in the winter. Or, the agency might have to deal with a child who’s been mistreated or shown a lack of care in the home.
“We’re the first line of defense. Our job is to provide services to that youth,” he said.
In some cases, CSS might have to recruit foster parents when the situation is particularly troubling. In the near future, CSS plans to introduce a series of preventative services for at-risk families.
“The end goal is to have less kids come to the attention of the Department of Human Services,” Lavoritano said. ••