The following Q&A with Maya Wiley 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 Wiley’s responses:
- Invest $5 million in bus service for students in foster care to help increase school stability and make permanent $20 million in baseline funding for the Fair Futures program
- Ensure that ACS abides by the terms of a 2012 legal settlement that allows youth older than 21 to stay in the foster care system if they do not have access to stable housing
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?
Like the criminal justice system, the child welfare system overwhelmingly pulls in poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. In Hunts Point, in 2017, 10% of families were subject to child welfare investigations, and between 2010 and 2014, nearly a third of families in Brownsville experienced child welfare cases. In 2018, the Child Welfare Organizing Project reported that 93% of the 11,500 youth in NYC’s child welfare system were black and Latinx. In 2017, lawyers from the Bronx Defenders found that while the Bronx was 40% white, almost 100% of the families they represented were black or Latinx. Today, the number of children in foster care in the Bronx accounts for close to a third of the total, where the poverty rate is 26.4% as compared to the rest of the city, where it is 16%.
In response to this, I have proposed a Care Income as part of my Universal Community Care platform. One hundred thousand of the most high-need families would be eligible for an annual $5,000 grant to use toward caregiving expenses. A care income would reorient our efforts away from criminalizing poor families, and toward supporting their material needs. Failing to do this will mean even our best attempts to prevent families from entering the system will fail, as they will continue to exist within an environment in which poor parents are treated as criminals.
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?
First, we must provide support to young people in foster care in our school system, to address disproportionately high dropout rates, and give these young people the support systems they need to succeed. My education platform has proposed launching an interagency initiative to tackle educational barriers for students who are housing insecure and in foster care. It provides $5 million for bus service for students in foster care to increase school stability, and ensures that those students in foster care with disabilities receive their full spectrum of mandated and compensatory individualized education plan (IEP) services. In addition, I will reallocate the $450 million NYPD budget for school policing to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of NYC’s students, by funding student support teams and expanded mental health services through community schools. I will also ensure that every student is well known and supported by at least one adult, by building capacity at middle and high schools to provide robust advisory programs.
I will be a strong advocate for the Fair Futures program, which provides vital support to youth in foster care, and will fight to restore the $20 million in baseline funding the program needs, recognizing that the recently announced executive budget did not allocate any funding to the program.
In addition, I will ensure that ACS abides by the terms of the 2012 legal settlement that allows some youths older than 21 to stay in the foster care system, if they do not have access to stable housing, and will advocate for the age limit to be increased to 25. My affordable housing platform will lay out the steps I will take to ensure that housing is accessible to youth aging out of foster care, including through the provision of rental assistance vouchers.
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 mentioned above, my Care Income proposal directly addresses the reality that the majority of child welfare investigations occur as a result of poverty. By providing caregiving grants to 100,000 of the highest-need families in the city, my administration will respond to the underlying needs facing low-income families and prevent the involvement of the child welfare system.
With regard to preventive services, I recognize that they have significantly reduced the number of children who end up in the city’s foster care system and meet the needs of families in a wide variety of ways: alleviating food and housing insecurity; providing essential material supports and services; offering remote academic supports for students; and support groups for parents. That said, the fact that these services are connected to ACS is a barrier to involvement for many families. Those living in communities that have been subject to heightened surveillance and investigation by ACS are less likely to reach out to preventive providers to request stabilizing support, leaving them without the assistance they need. As such, I would explore the possibility of contracting these services through the Department of Youth & Community Development or the Human Resources Administration, and supporting the development of family-serving organizations separately from ACS.
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?
Yes. I have represented my godson in court several times, for minor infringements, but it was truly because he was existing as a Black boy in low-income housing. As such, I have become intimately acquainted with the child welfare system, and the ways in which it disproportionately impacts low-income families and families of color. As a result, I am committed to working toward a system in which child welfare cases are not the result of poverty, through providing 100,000 of the highest-need families with a Care Income, which will support caregivers to provide for their children's basic needs. In addition, my Universal Community Care platform has proposed the creation of Community Care Centers, which would contain free child care services, available to parents who are unable to look after their children due to their work requirements. I am committed to ensuring that every New Yorker can live here with dignity, especially for children who are experiencing hardships through no fault of their own.