The top trade association for child welfare organizations in New York announced a new leader last week. Kathleen Brady-Stepien will become president and CEO of the The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies in early February, replacing the organization’s leader of 21 years, Jim Purcell.
She’ll be tasked with helping to steer her field through the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which her members say have contributed to an increase in food insecurity and domestic violence cases among their clients. She’ll also be a prominent voice shaping her field’s shift to adapt to new federal policies limiting funding for foster care group facilities that many of her organization’s members run.
In an interview, she said her focus this year will be on implementation of the sweeping 2018 federal reform law, the Family First Prevention Services Act, which opened up entitlement spending under the Social Security Act to prevention services for families for the first time, and limited federal spending on group homes and other residential options in foster care.
“The goal is to do more to invest on the front end in prevention and get more federal funding in the door for that. We are all really invested as a group of providers in doing more on the front end for families,” said Brady-Stepien, in an interview. “We are also committed to making sure our providers are also stable and well-supported throughout COVID. They have had an extraordinary experience with their staff being essential workers, working in particular to support the families of color who have been some of the hardest-hit by the pandemic.”
Expediting the time it takes to transfer youth out of foster care and back into permanent homes will be another top focus, she said.
Brady-Stepien has been with the Council for nearly seven years, most recently as an advocate in the state capital on issues ranging from social services funding to policies for child welfare investigations. She’s made regular appearances in front of legislative committees in favor of boosting support for transition-age foster youth, and preserving New York’s unique funding stream for prevention services.
“The Board is confident that Kathleen brings the experience, strong relationships, and vision needed to lead COFCCA’s next chapter,” said Elizabeth McCarthy, CEO of the nonprofit Sheltering Arms and the Council’s board chair, in a statement.
The Council is a membership organization of more than 100 nonprofit organizations that includes some of the largest and oldest multi-services foster care organizations in the country and smaller community-based startups working on the frontlines of diverse, low-income communities.
She said that she’s paid close attention to the rising activist voices in child welfare, with growing calls in op-eds and protests the past year for dramatic reforms to a system that has long ensnared Black families at a disproportionate rate.
“We all need to advocate together and with our government partners to focus a lot more on the neglect side of things – the poverty issues that bring families to the attention of child welfare systems,” she said, pointing out that most of the allegations that come to the state central registry are about poverty, and disproportionately impact families of color.
“We all have a responsibility as a group of advocates to greatly reduce and hopefully eliminate child poverty.”