Catholic Social Services preparing to serve local children

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. ••

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