The child welfare system is usually only in the news when there is bad news – a child dies, a child is wrongly removed from his or her home, caseworkers’ caseloads are too high. The list of incidents goes on and on. Today we are in the news, as two advocates in the field, because the state budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would cut New York City’s funding for child welfare services - a tragedy in the making.
The child welfare system is rarely in the news when something goes right. But in 2002, New York state did something right. After capping and cutting funding for child welfare services in 1995, which led to increases in foster care and child abuse and decreases in prevention, the state created the current child welfare financing structure. Since that time, the state has limited and capped reimbursement to counties for foster care, while providing 2-to-1 matching funds when counties invest in services that keep children safe and out of foster care. This includes child protective services to keep children safe, and abuse and neglect prevention services to enable children to remain safe at home with their families. After decades of separating children from their parents, traumatizing children and damaging familial relationships, New York City developed a continuum of preventive services that enables many more children to remain with their families receiving the services that keep them safe.
This financing structure, which incentivizes good outcomes, has been working for over 15 years. New York City has lowered child protective caseloads to a citywide average of under 15, which we believe is one of the best ways to ensure high-quality investigations. The use of foster care across the state and in New York City has plummeted. Since 2002, New York City’s foster care population has decreased dramatically, from nearly 30,000 to fewer than 9,000 children currently in foster care.
Furthermore, New York City was recently recognized by Casey Family Programs, a child welfare foundation, as a national leader in investing in an extensive array of preventive services and family supports. According to Casey Family Programs report, the Administration for Children's Services in New York City “now operates the largest and most diverse continuum of evidence-based and evidence-informed preventive programs in any jurisdiction in the country.” These include child-parent psychotherapy, a trauma-informed model for parents who have experienced trauma and who have young children, and family functional therapy, an intensive home-based model working with adolescents in high-risk families. Despite national trends showing an uptick in foster care due to the opioid epidemic, New York City has bucked this trend due to its strong system of preventive services.
But now the governor’s budget is putting all of this progress - and the safety of children - at risk by proposing to cap and cut reimbursement to New York City, and only New York City, for the services and supports that keep children safe and provide much-needed supports to families. If this proposal is adopted in the final budget, it will change the whole financing structure for New York City’s child welfare system and remove the incentive to invest in protection and prevention of child abuse and neglect. New York City children are New Yorkers too: the state should not shirk its responsibility to protect and support the most vulnerable children and families. And while the city is the target of this cap and cut in state funding now, it is a very dangerous precedent to set for other counties.
We believe that New Yorkers know better than to turn back the clock and repeat the budget mistakes of 1995. The safety of New York City’s children hinges on the governor and the Legislature doing the right thing and rejecting this dangerous cap and cut to child welfare services funding.
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