The following Q&A with Shaun Donovan 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 Donovan’s responses:
- Provide newborns and students with Equity Bonds of $1,000 in principal and annual deposits
- Guarantee at least one paid job, apprenticeship or internship opportunity to every high school student
- Universal housing vouchers and trained housing navigators, and increase emergency rental and assistance to $500 million
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?
Involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services stems from a long history of systemic racism and targeting families that live in poverty. This cycle can be broken by uplifting communities as opposed to allowing the systems to continue as they currently exist. We have several policies that work to eradicate these systems that feed into the cycle of child removals and involvement with the ACS.
First, our Equity Bonds proposal would begin immediately upon inception to expand enrollment beyond newborns to any child up to two years old, and the entire New York City public, charter and low-income private school student population, with $1,000 in principal. Students would also immediately begin receiving annual deposits of up to $2,000 depending on income. Eligibility for additional deposits would be limited to families making less than five times the poverty level, and annual deposits would be on a sliding scale based on income. Under this program, any child born into poverty, regardless of immigration status, can go to school, knowing that roughly $50,000 is waiting for them before entering the workforce or pursuing higher education.
This investment would immediately begin to tackle generational wealth disparities that play a fundamental role in systemic inequality. Funds would be accessible to enrollees upon graduation from a New York City school, attainment of a GED certificate or apprenticeship (including a grace period), for purposes like paying for college, buying a home, starting a business, eradicating debt and other methods of achieving economic security.
Next, our “15 Minute Neighborhood” proposal would ensure that every New Yorker has the opportunity to live in a 15 minute neighborhood, where a great public school, fresh food, access to rapid transportation, a park, a primary care physician and a chance to get ahead can all be found within 15 minutes of their front door.
Lastly, we must strengthen coordination across the Department of Education, Department of Health and community-based organizations (CBOs) to identify the most critical geographic gaps in 3K and Pre-K programs, and to better match family needs to specific program offerings.
Placement decisions between CBO- or DOE-run 3-K/Pre-K programs do not consistently fully consider which programs best meet a family’s needs — for example, for extended day and year coverage. Improved outreach to immigrant, multilingual and other low-income families is needed to better support them through the application process, including through CBOs with pre-existing connections to these families. This is particularly challenging for families of children with disabilities, as they navigate multiple city agencies through the transitions from Early Intervention to 3-K and Pre-K, and for whom there are too few high-quality options in these critical early years.
Finally, conflicting Department of Health and Department of Education rules can cause confusion within community-based organizations, impacting their ability to focus on providing care and education.
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?
As noted above, we are introducing our Equity Bonds plan so that every child will have the resources necessary to enter into adulthood. Additionally, we should be providing job training and experience opportunities for our high school students. New York City should guarantee at least one paid job, apprenticeship or internship opportunity that connects to a meaningful career pathway to every high school student by 2026, expand opportunities for early career exploration and more intensive opportunities like internships and apprenticeships generally, working with employers, and ensure at least 60% of students are able to obtain college credit while in high school, with a focus on expanding opportunities for historically underserved populations and neighborhoods. These opportunities can help students identify and develop their interests while increasing the relevance of high school.
And we must partner with employers across high-growth sectors and pool public and private funding to dramatically increase these paid, relevant internships, apprenticeships and other meaningful career experiences at the secondary and postsecondary level. There are a number of model programs in New York City, such as the Brooklyn STEAM Center, that already offer training, mentorship and employment opportunities for high school and college students. But these programs must be expanded to ensure more students can benefit.
We will also establish an NYC Job Corps which will put young people to work and create opportunities for shut-out workers. Among many others, the NYC Job Corps will engage justice-involved individuals in work and skills-training. NYC Job Corps will provide customized, on-the-job experience to get participants workforce-ready. The Job Corps will target industries that are critical to the city’s long-term success, including our infrastructure needs, to identify jobs and employers that are ready to accept a cadre of city-trained professionals.
Despite an abundance of quality jobs in various industries across NYC, there are groups of New Yorkers who face significant challenges accessing these employment opportunities, and this population has grown because of the pandemic. At the same time, employers struggle to find candidates with the requisite skills and diverse backgrounds. The Job Corps will address a misalignment among job seekers’ experiences, the skills that training and education providers teach and the needs and requirements of employers.
The NYC Job Corps will be an extension of the more specialized NYC Climate Corps, announced within our climate platform. Based on the Clean Energy Service Corps program, an AmeriCorps program established under President Obama to employ young Americans on clean energy and resilience projects through nonprofit and local government grants, the Climate Corps will build on local efforts like the CUNY Service Corps to create strong financial and educational opportunities for New Yorkers. The Job Corps would take a similar approach, bringing together the public, private, philanthropic and academic sectors to identify training and work opportunities for our residents.
We must also make sure that those aging out the foster care system have access to affordable housing options. We will advocate for universal vouchers at the federal level, coupled with a city-level shift from funding shelters to providing rental assistance for lower-income households.
We will enforce the city’s source of income discrimination laws and break down barriers to make the voucher program easier to use for both tenants and landlords.
We must also support housing navigators — trained professionals who can provide information about neighborhoods around the city as well as the process of obtaining housing — to help housing voucher holders secure homes in a wider range of neighborhoods, promoting greater upward mobility.
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?
We have many policies aimed at reducing the corresponding crises that come with poverty like housing, childcare and health problems. As discussed above, our housing voucher program will allow more families to access affordable housing. We will also strengthen the emergency rental assistance program. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how limited the current programs are in supporting our communities in times of crisis. We will work collaboratively with the state to increase annual spending on emergency rental assistance to $500 million and increase the amount of arrears covered to $5,000 per household. This program will provide support before renters get to housing court and certainly before emergency shelter. This emergency support will reach some 100,000 New Yorkers struggling or unable to pay rent due to economic setbacks.
In addition, we will create a domestic violence-focused flexible funding reserve that addresses problems and expenses before they lead to rent arrears and the possibility of homelessness, helping domestic violence survivors and their children remain housed after a case of domestic violence. The administration will work with and listen to domestic violence survivors to determine which pathways are appropriate.
Our 15 Minute Neighborhood plan will also ensure that every resident has access to primary care within 15 minutes of their front door. This will help ease the burden on the health care system and provide greater access to more New Yorkers. We will also implement a three-tiered public option for health care. Well-funded primary care has been found to lead to high-quality care and better health outcomes for patients and improved experience for clinicians, at lower costs. Because of its potential benefits, primary care continues to be one of the main drivers of health inequity in our city — people of color have less access to primary care and have more preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits than other New Yorkers.
Not only is addressing the issue of inequitable access to care a responsibility our city has toward its most vulnerable, it is a necessary step toward rebuilding our economy and strengthening our city. By ensuring that all New Yorkers are healthy — particularly those that put themselves at risk every day to carry out essential tasks — we can truly commit to the all-hands-on-deck approach to recovery that this crisis demands.
To this end, we will fill in any gaps in federal- and state-level coverage through a New York City public option that prioritizes providing access to high-quality primary care. Every member will be assigned a primary care doctor who will manage their care, including prevention, chronic disease management, behavioral health and referral for care. The program will offer a three-tiered system of primary care physicians on a sliding fee scale based on network chosen, and members will enroll in a specific institution within their network.
The three networks are:
Health + Hospitals: In addition to primary care, members will receive full service, including pharmacy, specialty care, imaging, inpatient care, and others, for an additional co-pay.
Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs): In addition to primary care, members will have access to a wide range of services, including dental and behavioral health, while referral to specialists, imaging, inpatient care and others will not be covered in the program.
Community Doctors: Members will have access to services offered by their local primary care physician. Networks of FQHCs and community doctors will be established through an agreement to set criteria including managing care and referring patients as needed, and will receive annual grants to do so.
In order to supplement the services available through FQHCs and community doctors, specialist visits and hospitalizations for all New Yorkers in the program will take place through Health + Hospitals. Voluntary hospitals will also have the option to be enrolled through an agreement to provide secondary and tertiary services, including imagining, specialty care, emergency care and inpatient care for enrollees.
The program will have no additive cost to the city, with investment continuing through the $100 million annually spent on NYC Care. After the establishment of philanthropic partnerships with the city to launch the program, costs should be offset by savings to Health + Hospitals due to increased primary care access — including reduction of uncompensated preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
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 have not had any personal or professional experience with the child welfare system. However, I believe that in order to achieve the most representative and equitable policy, every stakeholder should have a seat at the table. I will meet with groups working on these issues as well as families impacted by the child welfare system in order to familiarize myself with the issues they face.