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January 4, 2021
By: M Mena
*Other neglect: defined as inadequate guardianship, inadequate food, clothing, shelter, lack of supervision, malnutrition, failure to thrive, swelling, dislocations, pains.
The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA) and Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) are partnering to undertake a data-driven advocacy project to better understand how child welfare prevention programs have responded and are responding to child and family needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project will survey preventive services providers, contracted by the Administration of Children Services (ACS), to capture their experiences during the spring of 2020 and the first wave of the pandemic as compared to current efforts. Comparing pre and post July 1st approaches is important as the array of services offered, the catchment areas served, and the pool of providers offering services has changed as of July 1st 2020. Survey findings from this research will be coupled with analysis of publicly available data on social and economic conditions before and during the ongoing public health and economic crises. Data collected and analyzed through these methods will deepen our understanding of child and family needs and of the role preventive services has played and continues to play in to supporting stability and safety in family households.
CCC, COFCCA, and our advocacy partners have long championed protecting resources for child welfare preventive services to keep families intact and children out of foster care. It is our hope that this qualitative project will collect data concretizing the role that preventive services are playing in supporting family and child well-being. The research findings and recommendations will shape advocacy at the state and city levels to protect and expand investments in child welfare preventive services.
In 2019, more than two-thirds of allegations in reports of suspected child maltreatment in New York City were concerns of neglect due to unmet basic needs linked to poverty, such as inability to meet needs related to food, education, clothing, healthcare, and safe shelter. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in that same year Black and Latinx children made up more than 71 % of children living in poverty, and made up over 83% of children in child welfare investigations, far exceeding their share of the population. Preventive service engagement is designed to keep children safely at home and out of the foster care system by supporting families that come into contact with the child welfare system or are at risk of child welfare involvement. In the last two decades, the number of children in New York City’s foster care system has seen dramatic reductions from nearly 50,000 children to a record low 7,804 children in the foster care system in 2019. In 2019, ACS investigated 54,985 cases of child abuse and neglect and served 45, 273 children and families through community-based preventive services programs.
During the height of the pandemic, required shutdowns in businesses, closed schools, imposed shelter in place and social distancing requirements, triggered an immediate and enduring economic fallout. Sadly, heightened needs may place children from low-income households at greater risk of child welfare involvement. Insecurity and instability related to employment, health, education and basic material needs are affecting many New Yorkers today, but they are disproportionately experienced in communities of color and with the lowest incomes. The rate of COVID-related deaths is more than double in zip codes with very high poverty rates (where 272 out of every 100,000 residents have died) than in zip codes with low poverty rates (125 out of 100,000). New Yorkers with the lowest incomes are feeling the impact of the pandemic on all sides—living in fear of eviction, struggling to put food on the table, and having trouble getting devices to support remote learning for their children. During the pandemic, housing instability has also grown, further disrupting children’s schooling and putting families who live in temporary housing or shelters at greater risk of contracting the virus. In addition to trauma due to illness, loss of life, and heightened economic insecurity, there is growing concern of the behavioral and developmental impacts of the pandemic on children and adolescents. Additionally, disruptions to childcare and education due to closures of early care settings and schools, have also heightened needs of children and families.
We have heard anecdotally from community based preventive service providers, in March and throughout the early months of the pandemic, that they pivoted to meet the needs of families in a wide variety of ways and focused on alleviating food and housing insecurity; providing essential material supports and services, such as cash aid, groceries, diapers, baby formula; offering remote academic supports for students, support groups for parents; and tele-therapy for children and adolescents. We also heard that preventive service programs stepped in to help families pay cell phone bills, purchase phones and tablets, or pay for access to affordable broadband internet. Providers have underscored that bridging the digital divide has also been instrumental in allowing children and youth to access virtual afterschool programs in the arts, recreation, and offering academic support and as well as connecting children and youth to their peers to help mitigate social isolation.
Remarkably, in the midst of these efforts, ACS implemented a new child welfare preventive services system starting July 1st that emphasizes evidence-based treatment models over general prevention. Prior to July 1st, CBOs in contract with ACS provided mostly a broad range of services in catchment areas defined by community districts throughout New York City and a few offered evidence-based preventive models city-wide. The new system of services consists of ten service models, of which nine are Therapeutic and Treatment Case Models and one is a Family Support Case Model (formerly known as General Prevention and now comprised of three distinct approaches: Family Connections, Mobility Mentoring, and Solutions-based Casework). All nine Therapeutic and Treatment Models are evidence based and two of three Family Support Models are evidence based; Family Connections, is the only approach that is not evidence-based. Under new contract parameters, program catchment areas have also changed. Only Family Support Services have community district catchment areas, while evidence-based programs are serving either entire boroughs or provide services city-wide.
Given this major change in the array of program approaches and different catchment areas, is occurring in the midst an unprecedent public heath pandemic and economic crisis, the ability to understand how the system has responded and is responding to child and family needs is of utmost importance. We are hopeful that this project can help us underscore the necessity of protecting and increasing state and local investments in preventive services to promote recovery as well as to sustain the historically low numbers of children in foster care.