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Following the Protocol

Albany County government battles over its contracting procedures, at the risk of damaging services

by Ali Hibbs on February 11, 2010

Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families has been consistently frustrated in its efforts to negotiate new contracts with preventative service providers since 2005, a fact which may be resulting in a diminished quality of service for at-risk families in Albany County due to underfunded and under-performing programs. At the heart of this delay is a battle over control between the county legislature and the CDCYF.

Current contracts have been extended since 2005 in a series of resolutions by the Albany County Legislature. The contracts retain all the same agencies as well as their funding amounts indefinitely, despite recommendations by CDCYF to make key adjustments intended to address changing dynamics in the county and the budget. These contracts are supposed to be renegotiated every two years to allow for changing needs and fluctuating costs.

Preventative services are described as “rehabilitative and supportive services for any Albany County family with children at risk of foster care placement, with the goal of avoiding placement and to shorten placements for those in foster care.” Some of the services offered include truancy programs, abuse prevention and psychological care.

Under the current contracts, according to CDCYF, outdated programs are still receiving funding while more appropriate services await deferred approval. A new bidding process introduced in 2008 outlined different standards for rating potential service providers, breaking down larger contracts with whole agencies into contracts for specific services and requiring more precise service outcomes. Under this process, the county could contract with an organization for one service, but choose a more suitable organization to provide another.

Prior to this, said Colette Poulin, commissioner of CDCYF, “we had not been able to measure the success of our programs that we contracted with, so we wanted to be able to say there’s a need, and it’s working or it’s not working.” If only one part of the system is not working, she said, she would rather retain the relationships that are. “All of our providers have done excellent work for us. The issue, I would say, is that we don’t have enough money for everyone,” she said, also pointing out that some agencies are more “linked to the legislature than others.”

Project Strive has failed to provide necessary certification and consistently rates lowest under the new bidding process, according to Poulin.

Project Strive is run by David Bosworth, a Guilderland Democrat who, until 2008, was co-chairman of the Albany Democratic Committee with Frank Commisso. If the deferred contracts go though, Project Strive will lose a significant amount of state and county dollars.

Chairman of the Albany County Legislature, Dan McCoy, said that concerns regarding the new process and its possible impact on current providers led to the decision to table the new contracts, on multiple occasions, for over a year.

In a phone interview, he told Metroland that the new process has been perceived by some as an attempt to override the authority of the legislature, whose job it is to approve contracts totaling over $100,000. Under Poulin’s direction, these larger contracts have been broken down for specifics services, therefore coming under the $100,000 mark.

“The issue that I have,” he said, “is that I feel [Ms. Poulin was] trying to supercede the legislative body, because [she was] trying to pass this when we did a resolution saying that any time it deals with these type of services, it has to come in front of us so that we know what the long-term plan of the department is.”

Meanwhile, current providers who have consistently rated higher across the board, such as Parsons and St. Catherine’s, are receiving the same funding that they were in 2005 and finding it hard to keep their doors open, according to Poulin.

Poulin has pointed out that contracts totaling less than $100,000 must still be approved by a Contract Advisement Board, on which McCoy sits, and that the new process is the result of collaborative efforts with service providers and recipients. She also claims to have gone to great length to explain and clarify the process for concerned legislators.

This is not the first time that CDCYF has had run-ins with the legislature. Last year, they attempted to remove Poulin’s job from the budget entirely before being informed that such an action would be illegal. McCoy and Shawn Morse, legislator for the 18th District in Cohoes, are also heading up an investigation into other concerns that have been raised against Poulin and her department by the union CSEA. These allegations range from pulling department cases too early, to using her negotiating position to garner support from providers, to mistreatment of employees, and even one rumor that Poulin is related to County Executive Mike Breslin, who appointed her.

Mary Duryea in Breslin’s office said that the allegation of nepotism is flatly untrue.

Since the creation of CDCYF, the number of foster children in Albany has decreased by more than 50 percent (10 percent since Poulin was appointed in 2007), the number of adoptions has nearly doubled and Child Protective Services caseloads have dropped from an average of 40 to an average of 21. There has also been more than a 65 percent decline in the rate of delinquent reports—those that remain open past the mandated 60 days with no resolution for the child or family—since 2007. According to CDCYF, this is indicative of providing more timely evaluations and linkages with appropriate services, services such as the preventative ones currently languishing on the legislative agenda.

Additionally, a petition signed by 75 people, reportedly more than a month old, has not yet been seen by Poulin or anyone in her department, even though McCoy and Morse say they are currently in the process of setting up hearings to address these questions. Repeated attempts by Metroland to get a copy of this petition from McCoy and others were unsuccessful, despite promises to produce the document. Further attempts to ascertain wording of the petition, specific claims or the names of anyone who signed it have been similarly sidestepped.