This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council approved a budget of just over $88 billion for the coming fiscal year, nearly four months into a coronavirus pandemic that created a $9 billion revenue shortage.
The city’s foster care and juvenile justice agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, will see its smallest budget of de Blasio’s (D) two terms in office, with roughly $2.7 billion for the 2021 fiscal year, about 15% less than two years ago.
Full details had yet to be released Thursday evening, but advocates and child welfare providers were cautiously optimistic that the city had made the cuts while avoiding more significant reductions in core programming and supports for foster youth and families.
There appear to be two notable exceptions, however. The city will eliminate one $2.8 million pilot program that aimed to improve visiting time between parents and their children in foster care – a crucial component of efforts to reunify families – and to support relatives caring for foster children, advocates said.
The other reform slated to lose funding is the Fair Futures program, which had begun providing paid, trained life coaches and tutors for around 2,000 foster youth this year. That program will be cut from $10 million down to $2.7 million.
Approximately 300 Fair Futures coaches had been screened and trained as of June by most of the 26 foster care nonprofits contracted with the city. Many now may face layoffs.
“This is going to decimate the program we’d just started building. Our kids are very angry,” said Georgia Boothe, executive vice president of the Children’s Aid Society. “Especially during COVID, we saw a lot of our kids in care really struggle with online learning, if their foster parents aren’t tech-savvy. We’ve had to do a lot of intervention, and a lot of that support came from Fair Futures.”
The campaign for Fair Futures began last year, funded by several large philanthropies* and widely supported by City Council members, including general welfare committee chair Stephen Levin (D) of Brooklyn. Dozens of current and former foster youth also promoted the program in web-based testimonials and rallies outside City Hall before the pandemic.
This week, members of that campaign blasted the mayor and Children’s Services leadership on the cuts in an unsigned statement, demanding they find funding for a program they say has become essential for youth during the pandemic.
“While the Fair Futures Coalition appreciates the support from the City Council and their partial funding of Fair Futures, we are deeply concerned with the lack of support from Mayor de Blasio and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS),” read the statement. “As a result of this cut from ACS and related layoffs of coaches and tutors, hundreds of the City’s youth in care will lose their lifeline of support. This isn’t just a disappointing decision; it’s dangerous.”
The Fair Futures campaign had sought $50 million in city funding last year, aiming to create a new permanent class of foster care mentor-professionals who would fill in gaps in education, health and housing support. The professional caseworkers that ACS guarantees for each of its roughly 8,000 foster youth often focus on more bureaucratic tasks — paperwork and safety or well-being check-ins — while the Fair Futures mentors were beginning to help youth with things like homework and financial management.
The goal was to improve outcomes for the upward of 600 foster youth who age out of the system each year without having landed in a permanent family home, a population that often faces especially severe instability.
“Despite the very challenging budget environment, ACS is pleased that its core services for children, youth and families were not cut in this budget, and that funding for Fair Futures was partially restored,” said Marisa Kaufman, a Children’s Services spokesperson, in an email. “While it is disappointing that the budget agreement did not fully restore the Fair Futures program, ACS remains committed to Fair Futures and promoting educational opportunities and improving outcomes for youth in foster care.”
The elimination of a separate $2.8 million of support for kin caregivers and family visits was originally inspired by City Council demands. A 21-person task force of youth, parents and city officials that the Council convened in 2016 recommended urgent reforms to help older youth find permanent homes more quickly, among other goals.
Funding to address obstacles supported visits between parents and kids, and encouraged placements with kin as an alternative to living with strangers.
Boothe said while organizations like hers are pleased there weren’t other “major, sweeping” cuts to child welfare programs, the family visiting program cuts will cause painful repercussions.
“Parents often feel like they are alone in the system,” she said. “I was really shocked these funds were no longer available; this is something the City Council wanted to do.”
*The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation provide funding to The Imprint’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections, and to the Fair Futures campaign. They had no involvement with this article, per our editorial independence policy.