The following Q&A with Scott Stringer 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 Stringer’s responses:
- Dedicate staff at the Department of Education who are focused on foster youth
- Reduce child welfare caseloads by hiring more case workers and family court judges
- Increase annual spending on childcare to $660 million under his “NYC Under 3” plan
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?
For too long, the child welfare systems in our city and across the country have had a disproportionate and harmful impact on Black and brown families. Approximately 41% of reports citywide involved Black children, while Black children make up about 23% of the youth population. We have to uproot systemic racism throughout city government, and I will work with advocates and experts to ensure that families of color are not unjustly targeted by the child welfare system.
We need to reduce families’ interactions with the child protective system overall, and we can do that by providing more family enrichment support and education upfront, helping new families create safe and nurturing environments at home and receiving direct support of food, clothes and housing.
With the legalization of marijuana, we must turn the page on war on drugs-era policies. For years, drug testing for marijuana has cost New Yorkers employment opportunities, undermining their financial futures, prevented New Yorkers from accessing health care and other social services, and even separated families through the unnecessary involvement of the child welfare system. As mayor, I will put an end to this punitive drug testing, including during and after pregnancy, and ensure that employers and landlords are following the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act’s provisions protecting people against discrimination for lawful cannabis use.
As mayor, I would mandate all city employees take anti-bias and upstanding intervention training which is particularly important for ACS staff because unconscious bias can have disastrous consequences for families of color. I would bring my chief diversity officer — first established in the comptroller’s office — to every city agency, and empower them to audit all systems, structure and operations for racial equity, and implement the systemic changes we need.
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?
More than 6,000 students are in foster care, but there is currently no one at the Department of Education solely dedicated to supporting these students. As mayor, to better address the barriers to learning for children living in foster care, I will establish an interagency office empowered to cut through bureaucratic red tape and ensure that the most vulnerable students get the support they need when they need it. I will ensure there are dedicated staff to establish best practices in supporting students in foster care by collecting and sharing innovative practices in schools that have been most successful serving these students and families.
In everything from housing to our workforce development plan, we will ensure there is direct outreach and coordination with foster youth — for example, ensuring rental assistance vouchers are expanded and put into the hands of New Yorkers in need, and guaranteeing the right to housing through age 25.
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?
On the whole, we need to reduce caseloads, and invest in training, support and fair wages for caseworkers. The sad reality is that child removals often go up in New York City after high-profile cases of deaths involving children, as The New School has shown. In these heightened environments, frontline staff are more likely to bring their cases to court, and judges are more likely to order removals. There is no easy solution to this problem, but certainly the addition of more caseworkers and more family court judges would be a step in the right direction that as mayor, I would prioritize. Too often today, caseworkers are overloaded, which leads to burn-out and a constant churn of new caseworkers stepping into the fray. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for family court judges to have only a few minutes to render life-changing decisions about whether a child should be removed from his family and sent into foster care, or whether families should be given a chance to resolve issues in restorative alternatives. If we are going to properly protect our children, we need to invest in making sure we have enough properly trained and supported adults in place to do the job safely and effectively.
As mayor, I will focus on addressing the root issues in public health and safety that often contribute to instability for our children: from lack of primary care, to child care, to substance use and housing affordability issues. Our approach to child services has too often focused on enforcing a definition of “neglect” without working with families to improve care. For example, we all know the stories of a child being taken into custody after their parent left them unsupervised to get to work or a job interview. To keep families together, ACS and the broader child services system needs to be responsive to parents' needs, but the city also has to make meaningful investments upstream to increase access to all the resources necessary to provide for a child's safety and well-being — health care, subsidized childcare, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), affordable housing and more. This begins with my proposal, “NYC Under 3,” which would provide the largest investment for universal affordable childcare of any large city in the nation.
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’ll ensure that impacted New Yorkers have a voice in policymaking because that’s been my philosophy in my 30-year career in public service. I have been very pleased to have worked with community advocates, and would meet regularly with experts and impacted families to gain a deeper understanding of the system and changes that need to be made.