Attorneys for children press for increased funding in state budget

Attorneys are looking for a $15 million increase they say will provide better quality services for children

Courtesy of Lawyers For Children/Ben Fink Shapiro

Lawyers in the Attorneys for Children coalition are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature for an increase in funding that has remained nearly flat over the last two decades. The coalition includes organizations such as Lawyers for Children, Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights, The Legal Aid Society of Rochester New York, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Legal Aid Soceity of Suffolk County, The Legal Aid Society of Rockland County, The Children’s Law Center, Attorneys for Children, Sullivan Trail Legal Society Inc., and the Children’s Rights Society. 

Nonprofit legal organizations have been suffering from difficulties recruiting new staff and crushing workloads due to the lack of funding and recent budget cuts. Frustrated advocates are now pushing for at least a $15 million increase in the FY2024 budget.

Glenn R. Metsch-Ampel, executive director of Lawyers for Children, which according to its website “provides targeted public policy and class action advocacy to achieve system-wide changes in the field of child welfare,” pointed out the disparities in salaries.

“When you compare the Attorney's (for Children) salaries to the salaries that are being earned by prosecutors, and now with more recent increases, public defenders, and the 18B assigned counsel attorneys who represent primarily parents, but do represent some children, the salaries that the AFC offices are able to offer have fallen behind,” Metsch-Ampel told NYN Media. 

“And what we're beginning to see across the state is stunning attrition, people leaving in significant numbers,” Metsch-Ampel added. “It's becoming incredibly challenging to recruit new hires…people who are passionate about doing this work, who desperately want to be doing the work, are being forced into a position where they have to choose between advocating for the state's most vulnerable children, or being able to take care of their own and meet the financial needs of their own children, and families.” 

Alongside years of flat funding, during the pandemic, AFC’s across the state sufferred from 10% budget cuts. For Lawyers for Children, the government is only covering about covering about 77% of salaries and about 32% of health care and other benefits. Lawyers for Children must raise $2 million per year to cover costs, which represents about 30% of the organization’s budget. 

Without proper funding, advocates are also worried that disparities in the foster care system will worsen in an already racially biased system. “We already have disproportionate minority representation in the foster care system that is reflective of poverty. And that poverty is reflective of years of systemic bias” said Metsch-Ampel. 

The AFC institutional provider offices that make up the coalition represent 200,000 children annually statewide and 90% of all children in Family Court in New York City and other cities and counties around the state. Children represented include youth separated from parents, at risk of homelessness due to aging out of foster care, teens orphaned by COVID-19 and victims of sex trafficking. Advocates argue that proper funding will allow them to keep families together and forge a better path for young people.

“The way attorneys across the state are dealing with this crisis now is they're working into the wee hours of the morning, and they're working through the weekend. People are basically giving up the quality of their personal lives in order to serve their clients,” said Metsch-Ampel. “But that's an unsustainable way of addressing this issue. And so if the proper funding is provided, then the offices can do what they're set up to do.”