Advocates Urge State to Protect Child Welfare Programs Supporting Pandemic Recovery

Press Releases

March 16, 2021

New York, NY — Preliminary findings from a soon to be released study call attention to the critical role that child welfare prevention services programs are playing to respond to the needs of children and families during the pandemic, drawing critical attention to the need to reject State Executive Budget proposals that would reduce state child welfare funding for counties.

The study draws on insights from a survey co-developed by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) and the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA) in partnership with child welfare providers in New York City from November 2020 to February 2021. These providers have first-hand experience with the emerging needs of families during the COVID-19 pandemic, and knowledge of whether government funding for these services is sufficient to address immediate needs of child safety and long-term needs of family stability. This information is critically important now during the final stages of budget negotiations, as the Governor and State Legislature grapple with decisions over state child welfare reimbursement to counties in the State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 adopted budget.

“Throughout the pandemic, prevention service programs have been a lifeline for New York’s children and families responding to multiple stressors that come with social isolation and heightened economic food and housing insecurity, by addressing these needs as well as barriers to remote learning and increased health and behavioral health needs,” said Jennifer March, executive director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. “Investments in children and families now are the key to New York’s recovery. As the State Budget for fiscal year 2022 is finalized, we are calling on State leaders to reject proposed reductions to state reimbursement for child welfare services and prioritize investment that keep children safe and families together.”

“This survey confirmed much of what we have heard anecdotally all along – many New York families struggled with basic and practical needs like how to safely get food, how to get needed technology and how to virtually connect to health, mental health, and education services,” said Kathleen Brady-Stepien, president and CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies.  “Our child welfare heroes, those essential workers who continued to go into the field during the worst days of COVID-19, reported in this survey that while the state is slowly recovering, families’ needs have not lessened, and this is not the time for the state to lessen their support for children’s safety and well-being.”

Findings from the survey illustrate how prevention programs are helping families with many needs that have increased since the outbreak of the virus in March 2020, but funding to support these efforts fall short.

Among the key finding from the survey:

37% of respondents indicated a need to supplement the funding currently available.

More than half of respondents expressed increased need of families for supports during the pandemic, including internet access, education and daycare, mental health counseling, cash assistance, housing services and domestic violence counseling.

When asked about the needs of families that providers are unable to meet under their service contracts, cash/emergency assistance, non-cash support (such as food or internet access and devices), housing and rent assistance were among the highest reported areas of need.

In the last two decades, New York City and State have experienced historic declines in the number of children in foster care thanks to investments made in child abuse and neglect prevention. Even before the pandemic, the majority of child welfare cases related to neglect with more than two-thirds of allegations of child maltreatment in New York City in 2019 stemming from unmet needs due to economic hardship such as insufficient or inadequate food, education, clothing, healthcare, and housing.

During the height of the pandemic, concerns around child safety and family stability have been heightened while 4,200 children lost a parent or guardian to COVID-19 and 325,000 children across New York State were pushed into poverty. The vast majority of families impacted by the economic downturn and public health crisis are Black and Latinx families who are also disproportionately represented in the child welfare system.

Despite the vital role these community-based child welfare prevention service organizations are playing to support families in crisis during this time, the Governor’s Executive Budget proposed to cut child welfare funding that counties use to ensure child safety and family stability. Among the budget reductions proposed, a 5% cut in reimbursement to localities would reduce local funding for child welfare protective, prevention, and independent living services, totaling $30.5 million statewide. The Assembly One House Budget bills reject proposed reductions and restore state funding, the Senate One House Budget bills do not.

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