The following Q&A with Dianne Morales is part of The Imprint and The Center for New York City Affairs’ survey of the 2021 New York City mayoral candidates, about their plans for the city’s child welfare system. An introduction to the project can be found here.
Highlights from Morales’ responses:
- Create a housing-for-all guarantee, including housing stability support through mentorship, guidance and options for healing therapy for youth aging out of the foster care system
- Establish universal after-school programs, focused on students with disabilities, in foster care and with limited financial means
Black and Latino families are over-represented at every stage of the child welfare system, from child maltreatment investigations by CPS, through termination of parental rights proceedings in family court. As mayor, how would you respond to calls to address racial injustice in the child welfare system?
It is actually very harmful to assume that the child welfare system will do what is best for families. The system is connected to the war on drugs, connected to the over-policing of Black and brown communities. This is another way the Black and brown families are disrupted by the state. Many of the factors that get child welfare services involved in the first place are issues that stem from racism and poverty. We must enact preventative measures, many of which are to disrupt poverty: housing for all, health care, education equity. Ending the school-to-prison pipeline by divesting from police in schools and moving toward a transformative justice model.
My goal is to create programs that keep families out of the system. We need to transform the punitive measures and work toward one of transformative justice. The communities that are most affected know what they need, which means listen to them. As mayor, I will listen to the stakeholders and hear what they need in order to succeed. I will also work to protect immigrant families by banning the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and all city-level agencies from asking about immigration status outside of confidentially providing resources and legal services to support undocumented New Yorkers.
Young people often leave the foster care system without lifelong connections to caring people in their lives. Foster youth graduate from high school at very low rates and sometimes end up in homeless shelters or jails within three years of exiting the system. What are your plans to improve outcomes for transition-age foster youth, who are between ages 15 and 24, and planning to leave or have left government care?
We need to expand resources and education on mental health treatment and support that is both evidence-based and socially responsive to the unique and holistic needs of our diverse communities. I’ve been consistent in my call that housing is a human right, and that my administration will guarantee housing for all. This includes expanding housing opportunities for youth and young adults that are at higher risk of housing insecurity, such as LGBTQ+ youth and people aging out of the foster care system. We will make sure that trusted community-based organizations and proper offices are fully funded to expand programs that do more than just place our youth in housing; ones that provide mentorship, guidance and options for healing therapy. Basically, it needs to be a holistic approach — not just a roof, not just a door. And we must ensure that youth in the foster care system are heard and represented when making decisions on housing, education, transformative justice measures, etc.
For those New Yorkers who have left government care and haven’t had their basic human needs addressed, we will create adult learning hubs to connect adult learners who have been impacted by inequitable education in their youth to re-engage with critical skills to support an increased quality of life.
Stakeholders inside and outside of the child welfare system say that too many families come under investigation because they struggle with the consequences of poverty, such as inadequate housing, lack of child care or untreated health problems. Under your administration, how will struggling families find support to keep their children safe and well at home?
I believe we have to do more to keep families together. My administration will establish access to affordable and quality childcare, early childhood education, home care, disability and long-term care. We will provide universal after-school programs, especially for students with disabilities, in foster care, with limited financial means, etc. We will work with established and trusted CBOs to provide after-school and summer programs. All of this work will be in co-creation with the community and focused on uplifting communities as a whole.
We can’t forget about universal access to doulas, midwives, physicians and nurses, and free prenatal care for expecting mothers. Many ACS cases happen right after birth, and programs like this can be imperative to preventing that.
Providing health care access to undocumented communities is important. These New Yorkers, these communities should not have to fear that they will be separated from their children when seeking services. When seeking them, language can be a larger barrier to access, so in providing services we must do so through a real language justice lens. I will ensure that city offices have proper access to translators and interpreters.
Do you have any personal or professional experience with the child welfare system, including foster care, adoption or foster care prevention services? How has that informed your ideas about managing or reforming the system, if so? If not, how do you plan to familiarize yourself with how the system works, and the needs of vulnerable families who come into contact with it?
I worked as a case manager in the foster care system right out of college. I don't even know where to start here. There’s so much to share, but first, we know that the system disproportionately harms Black and brown families. We should be providing support on the front end, not removing children from their families.
Case managers are overworked; I alone had 50 children on my caseload across the city that I was supposed to see every week. I have also in my career engaged homeless LGBTQ youth in education programming and provided housing for those aging out of foster care. We need to offer robust support to our families to prevent removal in the first place. And it needs to be delivered in a culturally competent manner by trusted, credible staff.