Capital Tonight: It’s time to reimagine child welfare system


February 3, 2022

While there is some significant money for children-in-need in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, including $1.4 billion for child care, groups like the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, and others are pushing lawmakers to discard the traditional piecemeal approach to funding services.

Instead, they want lawmakers to pass a multibillion-dollar “Children and Families Reinvestment Act.”

The bill is so new that it’s not yet in bill form. For now, it’s a letter to Gov. Hochul outlining a new vision for funding New York’s child welfare system.

But according to state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, one of the major driving forces in the Legislature behind this effort and the chair of Assembly Committee on Children and Families, the vision articulated in the letter is clear and the time to implement that vision is now.

“The reason we are having societal problems is we are letting kids be doomed or defined by their trauma every day. And we’re losing,” Hevesi said. “So, every dollar we are spending here is to save money long-term.”

After 50 years of underinvestment, Hevesi said it’s time for New York to invest in the entire universe of child welfare preventive services. These include child care, pre-K, mental health services, foster care, kinship care, after-school services and more.

“After analyzing all of them, they all have one thing in common that needs to be fixed. Their workforces are not treated the way that science now demands we treat them,” Hevesi said.

Hevesi is referring to studies that conclude children need a caring adult and a stable environment in which to thrive. But the workers in every one of these fields are generally underpaid, have little to no career track, no health care and no pension.

According to Hevesi and the experts he is working with, an investment in these workers needs to happen now because the number of children experiencing generational trauma is on the rise.

“When I say generational trauma, I want to be specific. That’s sexual abuse; that’s domestic violence. These are learned behaviors passed down through the generations. Then you add in COVID and the COVID lockdown. It meant you were locking kids in with their abusers,” Hevesi explained.

Hevesi’s analysis is that, as a state, New York has been “terrible” at supporting these kids. But a deep commitment to and serious financial investment in the workforces that serve these children can break the cycle of abuse.

“This is preventing problems before they happen,” Hevesi said. “So, every dollar we are spending here is to save money long-term.”

That said, the proposal also envisions short-term savings for counties. Hevesi wants to restore the statutorily required 65%-35% child welfare reimbursement to counties, something the New York State Association of Counties is pleased with.

“The state over the years has cut us pretty badly in these social welfare reimbursement programs like the state’s safety net program,” NYSAC’s Stephen Acquario told Capital Tonight. 

“After federal public assistance runs out, the state program kicks in. It used to be 50-50. It’s now counties 70-30% state. This affects our ability to help with homeless population and families in need of assistance after federal benefits run out.”

According to Hevesi, support for the “Children and Families Reinvestment Act” is growing and comes from a large and diverse population of lawmakers. He is hoping that the bill is included in the state budget.

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