A group of lawmakers, youth activists and advocates for children and families gathered today on the steps of the New York State Capitol to call for direct investments in communities with high rates of child welfare involvement — funds that would bypass child welfare agencies wielding the power to remove kids from home.
Sen. Jabari Brisport (D), chair of the Children and Families Committee in the state Senate, described the package of bills that includes the community fund as an “economic stimulus” for New York’s most vulnerable residents.
A package of bills proposed by two Democratic lawmakers, Brisport and Assembly member Andrew Hevesi (D), would establish a dedicated funding stream for foster care prevention programs, expand access to child tax credits, improve child care and enhance economic stability for low-income families. The lawmakers said they will introduce the package formally in the next two weeks. The legislative and budget proposals are components of the lawmakers’ Children and Families Reinvestment Act, versions of which they have attempted to push through in prior years.
“We have the ability to transform what this state does for children and families,” he said. “It can make us a nationwide leader in making sure that we have deep investments in the things that make us not only survive but thrive.”
Parents, impacted youth and child welfare policy experts helped draft recommendations for key parts of the legislation, providing input that would help the state decrease residents’ involvement with child protective services. In contrast with previous proposals, a key component of the bill package is a Child and Family Well-being Fund, described as a “flexible funding system that would bolster community assets and create opportunities to fund new programs in historically underfunded communities that are particularly vulnerable to child welfare system involvement.”
The state funds would go directly to community-based programs in impoverished New York neighborhoods, rather than be funneled through CPS agencies that often elicit fear and mistrust in marginalized communities.
In an interview prior to the press conference today, Hevesi said he wanted “to find a way to get money into communities that have higher rates of child welfare” without going through government agencies such as New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services.
Crystal Charles from the Schuyler Center, a group that works to develop policies to strengthen New York families, said the motivation for the fund was to provide upfront support to families in crisis, shifting away from the current, more punishing model that is based far too often on invasive investigations and child removals.
“The act overall represents some much-needed, and long-overdue funding that hits the needs of children and families in New York, especially the ones in communities that are historically involved with the system,” Charles said in an interview before today’s press conference.
In her state budget released last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) proposed an increase of $600 million for child care programs, on top of the $7 billion allocated last year. Her executive budget also calls for a 2.5% increase in pay for human service workers — an amount that falls far short of what industry leaders say is needed. The Legislature and the governor’s office have until April 1 to reach a final decision on the state budget.
Those gathered at the capitol today said they hope to see a more significant investment in the state’s child welfare system, which disproportionately impacts Black and Latino populations.
Local nonprofits with budgets of less than $2 million, without a prior relationship with child protective services, will be eligible for the funds Brisport and Hevesi say they will propose — an amount that has yet to be specified. Local advisory boards made up of community members with experience in the child welfare system will determine eligibility, according to the proposed legislation. Technical assistance will be available to ensure that small, local organizations are among the recipients of the community reinvestment funds.
The funds would be aimed at enhancing quality of life, in addition to providing basic necessities, said Angela Burton, who worked previously at the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services. She gave the example of a community-based organization assisting parents who want their children to take music lessons, or develop skills to work in a recording studio.
Burton described the fund as government interfacing with communities in a supportive, rather than a punitive way. She said impoverished communities need more than the traditional lineup of foster care prevention services — anger management classes, parenting programs and rehab centers.
“The goal of it is really to work in the community with communities, so those people can determine for themselves what they want, and need from government resources, and how they get allocated,” Burton said.
Corrections: A comment previously attributed in the article to Nora McCarthy was made by Crystal Charles from the Schuyler Center. This article was also corrected to reflect that Angela Burton previously worked at the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, but is no longer with that office.