The following Q&A with Kathryn Garcia 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 Garcia’s responses:
- Implement a “race-blind” child removal evaluation process
- Prioritize those who have experience with foster care for appointments to Family Court and the Administration for Children’s Services
- Guarantee foster youth a right to housing through age 25, with rental assistance vouchers
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?
We know that New York City’s foster care system disproportionately impacts Black and low-income families, deepens the cycle of poverty and punishes families for being poor. The system is in need of significant reform and repair. This is an issue of racial and economic justice, and one that my administration would tackle head on.
My plan to reform New York City’s foster care system — Family First — calls for immediate implementation of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services directive to utilize a race-blind process for determining when a child should be removed from their home. We can’t exempt our way out of policy that is proven to create more equitable outcomes.
Changing the way we make child-removal decisions is only the start. As mayor, my appointments to Family Court and the leadership of the Administration for Children’s Services will be diverse to reflect the communities they serve. We should prioritize appointees who have had personal experience with the foster care system.
COVID-19 has strained — and will continue to strain the system. We need to target the structural issues that result in family separation in the first place. Poverty does not equal neglect. We need to help families in need secure housing, food and safe living conditions.
For our children searching for their forever home, we will prioritize permanent placements and support them every step of the way. When I think about my adoption and my family, one thing is clear: Everybody needs a forever family to support them and a city government that compassionately serves our children in the foster system. Family is forever. And we need more families like mine.
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?
Once children are in foster care, we need to match as many as possible with permanent families, and provide wraparound supports and services for those who age out of the system. In 2019 alone, 620 children aged out of foster care without a family upon turning 21. “Age-outs” constituted 15% of all children leaving foster care. By comparison, adoptions constituted 17%. Children leaving foster care without a forever family are more likely to experience hardships like poverty, homelessness and criminal justice involvement.
We can find more forever families for kids by learning from existing programs that work, readying children for adoption by addressing trauma from abuse, neglect and abandonment. When children do age out of foster care, we must make sure they are set up to succeed on their own by guaranteeing a right to housing through age 25, with rental assistance vouchers.
We must also address the effects of COVID-19 on foster care. Available placements are in short supply, with group homes stretched too thin and prospective foster parents grappling with understandable health concerns. Yet foster needs will increase given how many young people’s parents have suffered the loss of a caregiver; between March and July 2020 alone, 4,200 children lost a parent statewide, and more than half of those kids were in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens.
Vaccinating as many people as possible and defeating the virus will reopen placements and make prospective parents feel more comfortable fostering or adopting. But we must also make foster parenting more practical for the 21st century. We should expand promising ideas like the Mockingbird Family Model being piloted in Queens, which connects foster families with one another as a network to lean on for help and community.
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?
As I wrote in my op-ed for the New York Daily News, we must ensure that our child welfare system isn’t punishing parents for being poor — especially as families are facing the challenges of job loss due to the effects of the pandemic. Neglect, which drives the majority of ACS cases, is often used as a stand-in for poverty, such as a lack of food, clothing, housing and medical care.
We have an obligation to ensure all children are cared for. That means making it easier for families to thrive and access benefits to overcome poverty so their children have a safe and healthy living environment. As mayor, I would initiate proactive enrollment campaigns to achieve 100% uptake among families eligible for Medicaid and SNAP, and offer free tax preparation to help families claim the Child Tax Credit — which as of this year provides all low- and moderate-income families with up to $3,600 per child.
We must also deliver meaningful economic relief and job pathways for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. One way we do this is by providing free child care for children ages 0-3 for households making less than $70,000 per year, which is exactly what I would do as mayor. The bottom line is we must give all families the opportunity to raise their children with dignity.
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?
Reforming the child welfare system is deeply personal for me. My plan — Family First — is informed by my own experiences. I was adopted along with three of my five siblings, and my older sister spent seven years in the foster care system. When a system produces racist and economically discriminatory outcomes, that system must be re-designed to serve all New Yorkers with justice and dignity. I understand the problems on a personal and technical level — and I will deliver real solutions.