The following Q&A with Ray McGuire 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 McGuire’s responses:
- Implement a “race-blind” child removal evaluation process
- Recruit more peer advocates for parents facing child welfare investigations, and hold “reunification day” celebrations for parents whose children come home from foster care
- Permanently remove requirement for foster youth to petition a judge to remain care past 21
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?
The first thing we need to do is re-evaluate our bias training. We all have implicit biases and in the child welfare system, all actors need to be able to recognize their own biases, and not let them impact their decision-making.
Additionally, we ought to embrace blind removal, which requires a panel of practitioners to look at a case file with all identifications of race removed before assessing whether a child should be removed from their home or receive services. This allows us to have unbiased decision-making in the removal process while still maintaining child safety and reducing the risk of harm.
Another thing we can embrace is reunification day celebrations. These events celebrate parents who have reunited with their children following child welfare intervention. Beyond being just a celebration, they are an opportunity for us to reflect and celebrate the preferred goal of child welfare intervention which is eventual reunification, not permanent separation.
Finally, we should be supporting parent advocates. We know that mentoring programs provide additional support for parents involved in the child welfare system and encourage parents to have a voice in advocating for themselves and their families.
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 start transition planning far earlier. I believe that we need to begin working with young people earlier to plan their move into the next phase of their lives not just by ensuring that they have all the necessary documents, living arrangements and work or education plans in place, but also by teaching them many of the life skills that all young people rely on trusted adults for — things like how to manage money and budget and other things that they will need to know.
Additionally, I will work with the state to make permanent the emergency order getting rid of the requirement that those seeking to remain in extended foster care (up to age 21) petition a judge. Our local child welfare agencies should be able to make those determinations.
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?
Struggling families will find support in all areas of my plan. My housing plan will expand eviction and foreclosure legal assistance and increase that amount the city currently spends on rental subsidies and vouchers from approximately $130 million up to $400 million to keep more New Yorkers, including undocumented immigrants, who would otherwise face eviction in their homes and help others exit the shelter system for good. My mother faced agonizing choices about how to keep a roof over our heads. Would she pay the electricity bills or buy groceries? That’s why my vision for New York City is one where every family has a home, nobody pays more rent than they can afford.
Concerning education, too many kids fall behind BEFORE pre-K. Nurturing kids before they enter pre-K helps avoid developmental problems that can emerge when kids don’t get the attention they need in their earliest days. Early childhood programs also allow the city to identify and then intervene when kids do have serious developmental challenges. That’s why we need affordable childcare for all, which is what my plan will accomplish by building capacity for existing programs so they can improve in quality and scale and providing grants to launch new programs in childcare deserts.
And when it comes to health care, my “Doctors to the People” initiative will bring mobile doctors’ offices to communities that suffer from a deficit of primary care coverage. I will also expand primary and preventative care by funding community health centers and by sending health care workers directly into areas with high morbidity rates.
Additionally, my administration will provide greater access to telehealth appointments through more generous reimbursement policies and the expanded use of ExpressCare NYC.
And, I will increase health care coverage by investing in the NYC Care program, which provides primary care coverage to 50,000 low-income New Yorkers. Additionally, I will work with the state to open up the Essential Plan, which provides low-cost health care to state residents, often for $0-$20 per month, to more New Yorkers, by granting access to anyone who has had COVID and raising the income cutoff so that those who may not be considered low-income, but who still struggle with health care costs, can get covered.
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?
My mother raised me and my two brothers in a home with half a dozen or a dozen foster children at the same time, with my grandparents. I know from my own life how the child welfare system impacts the lives of those who interact with it. My guiding light will be whatever is in the best interests and well-being of the children. My focus will be on doing whatever leads to the best possible outcomes for our youth; from placing them in supportive, loving homes with foster parents like my mother, finding pathways to adoption and for those who are not adopted ensuring that when they age out of foster care, they do so with a path to stability: education, a job, housing and the support system that all young people need.