The New York City Council recently introduced nine bills aimed at addressing the city’s foster care system. At a hearing on June 16, child welfare leaders and youth advocates shared their stories with the council.
We asked a few of them to let us know which bills they believed would have the greatest impact, positive or negative, on the system.
You can read about all the proposed bills, and track their progress, on the Council’s website here.
Here’s what we asked:
Of the proposed bills, which do you think would have the most positive impact on New York City’s foster care system, and why? Which would have the most negative impact? Please elaborate.
What issues related to the city’s foster care system do you feel were not addressed?
And here’s what they had to say:
Stephen Levin, Council Member, 33rd District
Chair, Committee on General Welfare
Every child deserves a safe, supportive, and loving home. The entire package of foster care bills considered at the June 16th hearing aims to strengthen our foster care system by establishing new feedback systems and to guarantee the necessary data to push for systemic reforms at the state level and comprehensive services here in New York City.
I think that it is especially important that we pass Intro 1192, which would establish an interagency task force to develop and submit recommendations for improving services for youth in foster care and outcomes for youth aging out of foster care. The task force would be a fantastic opportunity for experts on foster care to engage in dialogue and offer innovative recommendations based on their direct knowledge of and experiences with the system.
In November, the Council hosted a Foster Youth Shadow Day where youth shared ideas about improving foster care in New York City, informed by their own interaction with the system. We learned from those and ongoing discussions that youth in care, and those who have recently aged out of care, are uniquely positioned to make a positive and lasting impact on the foster care system. In fact, some of the bill ideas directly stemmed from these conversations. As a result, I think it is particularly important to establish a task force that would include youth formerly and currently in care, giving them an opportunity to add their unique perspectives to the broader policy conversation.
My biggest take away from the Council hearing is that while it’s essential that we are using data effectively and looking at how the system is working as a whole, it is also important that we never lose sight of the fact that each youth in foster care has their own story and their own individual set of circumstances – not all of which can be seen when you look at it from a macro level.
While the number of children in foster care has decreased significantly in the past year, there is still much more that we can do to ensure the nearly 10,000 New York City children and youth in care can receive vital services and return to their families or be adopted by lifetime families. If a vulnerable individual ages out of the system, they must be fully supported to access comprehensive services, such as safe and stable housing, affordable health care, and high quality education and job training.
Going forward, I would like to dive deeper into how we can improve the overall integration of foster care with other services that ACS and other city agencies provide. For example, it is essential that we strengthen our preventive services programs so that parents feel they can reach out and receive the help they need to be the best possible caretakers for their children. I look forward to continuing to work with young people, as well as advocates, agencies, and my City Council colleagues to positively impact the foster care system.
Commissioner, The New York City Administration for Children’s Services
ACS was pleased to be able to speak about our foster care work with several City Councilmembers and the Public Advocate on June 16th. But when it comes to child welfare, nothing matters more than the testimony of those we are here to serve, and we were thrilled to hear the testimony of nine young people who spoke about life in foster care. We were especially touched by comments by a young man who emigrated from Mexico and found his footing in New York City while in foster care.
ACS appreciates the collaboration with City Council as it seeks to learn more about young people and their experiences in foster care. We are committed to transparent information-sharing that is helpful and relevant and that can focus all stakeholders on needed improvements. As our elected officials learn more about the children and families ACS serves, and the real-life challenges that may lead to child welfare involvement, they will be better able to craft policies and laws to strengthen and support our communities. In 2014, we worked with the Council to pass three different annual reports related to youth in foster care, and we are now working to accomplish targeted improvements to those bills to make the existing reports more functional. The Council has also proposed several new reporting requirements and together, we would like to better define the parameters each new measure so that reported information most effectively suits the intention of each bill.
The most important lessons for system reform come from both stories and data that point out issues and hurdles affecting large numbers of young people. Unfortunately, alarming anecdotes are easy to find in a system that works with families in crisis. Those insights can be helpful, certainly, but to truly create meaningful change we need clear and accurate systematic analysis.
ACS has particular concerns about Intro 1199, which would require an annual survey of foster youth ages 13 and older to collect information about each youth’s experience in his or her foster home. ACS would like to work with the Council on the survey methodology and revise the survey language to elicit the most accurate picture of the safety and well-being of young people in foster care. Together, we must carefully craft language that captures real experiences and youth voice without unintentionally maligning the hard-working foster parents who care for and support foster youth. We would like to further address the purpose of the survey, its methodology, and how technology can help ensure a statistically significant sample. We look forward to working together with the Council to create a stronger bill that will produce positive results for the system.
Among many other systemic improvements, ACS is partnering with outside experts on the “Home Away from Home” initiative, which is funded by RHF. This initiative will revamp the way foster parents are recruited, trained, and supported with the goal of enhancing child well-being—something the Council’s proposed survey seeks to assess. With the support and involvement of families and young people, elected leaders, foster parents, foundations and others, we will create positive experiences for children in foster care.
Dr. Jeremy Kohomban
President and CEO, The Children’s Village-Harlem Dowling
Each of these bills has the potential to improve foster care outcomes. Of these, I believe that the survey of experiences with foster parents could be most beneficial, if we secure a broad cross-section of foster child participation. In general, it is my experience that our Foster Parents are an amazing group of individuals. They get the credit for the much of the positive outcomes we have seen in the past 20 years. Getting their stories out via a survey will help us recognize their sacrificial commitments and it will also help us focus on those aspects of the placement that still need to be improved.
The increased housing subsidy bill, the educational continuity and graduation rate reporting bills are long overdue.
The challenge with all these bills will be in implementation. The system is already overwhelmed by regulation and reporting demands, where much of these demands are off-set to the organizations and the incredible staff we have on the front line. The paperwork and archaic reporting methodologies on staff who help children must be addressed. Unfortunately, it seems that every good idea, floods down as a new set demands on those who are tasked with the responsibilities of keeping children safe, thriving and successful. Despite the great technological improvements that have made our personal lives easier to manage, none of these technologies have been harnessed to make the front line work any easier.
Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
On May 25, 2016, the City Council introduced a package of eight bills, aimed at improving the transparency, services and outcomes related to the children, youth and families involved in New York City’s foster care system. After many months of educating Council Members and their staff about the child welfare system, CCC was so pleased that the City Council took such a strong interest in working to do what they could to strengthen the system. As a package, these bills, plus budget enhancements made by the Administration for Children’s Services and the City Council, as well as other city initiatives underway, should bring important progress to the foster care system.
One of the bills that CCC strongly supports is Local Law 1190-2016, which would require ACS to report regularly on the educational continuity of children in foster care. We believe this bill is important because research has shown the detrimental impact moving schools has on educational outcomes for foster children and youth. In addition, for children who are removed from their families, being able to attend the same school with their teachers and friends provides them with an important point of continuity at a time in their lives when there is much trauma and upheaval. Furthermore, educational stability for foster children is federal law.
We were concerned that at the hearing ACS testified that they do not have the information about a child’s school of origin to be able to produce an educational stability report. It is critical that ACS has this information when children are entering foster care so that decisions about the initial placement can take into account where the child is attending school. Furthermore, for those children who are placed outside their school district (perhaps so that they can live with kin), it is also important for ACS and agencies to know this school information to develop a plan for transportation when appropriate.
CCC is hopeful that passage of this local law will result not only in better data and tracking with regard to educational stability for children entering foster care and children moving placements while in care, but also system improvements with regard to stability. We understand that there are times when it is appropriate to change schools such as to allow a child to be placed with a relative, or because a child is not safe in the school of origin, or because the child is not connected to the school. We appreciate that the legislation allows ACS to provide data regarding the reasons why educational stability is not always in the child’s best interests.
The hearing and the legislation were focused primarily on children in foster care, and notably youth in foster care. We look forward to continuing to work with the City Council with regard to the needs of all children in foster care, as well as the services and needs of their parents. Finally, we will also be continuing to work with the City Council to take a closer look at the City’s preventive service system, so that we can better prevent the need for foster care whenever possible.
CCC was thrilled that the City Council also introduced a resolution in support of Assembly Member Hevesi’s child welfare housing subsidy bill, A7756-A. This bill would increase the amount of housing subsidy from $300 per month to $600 per month, increase the age for youth aging out of foster care to 24 (from 21) and allow youth receiving subsidy to live with roommates. CCC appreciates the City Council’s support and looks forward to continuing to advocate for this bill to pass at the State level.