Onondaga County

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Dutchess County

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Westchester County

How Three New York Counties are Right-Sizing Congregate Care and Prioritizing Family-Based Care

With some of the highest congregate-care placement rates in the country, New York and its counties must be proactive: leaders can prepare now by improving policies and practices to recruit and strengthen foster and kinship families and evaluate its current use of congregate care.  Three counties in New York have reform initiatives underway to reduce unnecessary congregate care and increase kinship foster care, which in turn has reduced lengths of stay and increased permanency. Though they are each at different stages of implementation, Onondaga County having had the earliest start, they have shown that shifting their systems is possible with strong management, collaboration and smart reinvestment strategies.


The stories of these counties - Onondaga, Dutchess and Westchester - are discussed in this guide, including a review of their key motivations and strategies to effectively influence their departments’ cultures and the priorities and practices of contracted providers. Not only is it possible to reform our systems in a collaborative and sustainable way, it is financially beneficial in the long run.


"You have to bring naysayers to the table
and work diligently to
get them aligned to
what you’re thinking."

Jim Czarniak

Onondaga County Children and Family Services Deputy Commissioner

"This is the most rewarding initiative because of the impact
it has on families.”

Sabrina Jaar Marzouka

Dutchess County Community and Family Services Commissioner

“Residential care is meant to be a temporary, therapeutic intervention, but it had become a destination for too many
of our young people.”

John Befus

Westchester County Department of Social Services First Deputy Commissioner


If we remove barriers and provide better support to staff, it is possible to certify kinship families and create stable family-based placements for teens.