Supporting Child Safety and Family Stability is Crucial to New York’s Pandemic Recovery Efforts

Digital Briefs

April 28, 2021

By: Elysia Murphy

It’s been just over one year since New York’s children and families found themselves at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time, concerns around child safety and family stability have been heightened while children, youth and their parents and caretakers have experienced the loss of loved ones, social isolation and disruptions in education and employment, increased economic, food and housing insecurity, and growing behavioral health needs.

Throughout these unprecedented times, we’ve been working with partners statewide to call attention the ways that child abuse and neglect prevention programs have been a lifeline for children and families. Across the city and state, both before and during the pandemic, most child welfare cases involve allegations of neglect rather than abuse. For example, more than two-thirds of allegations of child maltreatment in New York City in 2019 stemmed from economic hardship resulting in insufficient food, education, clothing, healthcare, or housing.

As households have struggled to meet their basic needs like how to safely get food or virtually connect to health and education services, they increasingly relied on community-based child welfare prevention programs. Families where parents lost their jobs or income have turned to these programs for assistance in accessing cash aid, food, rent assistance, Wi-Fi, and devices for remote learning, and more.

CCC and our partners successfully advocated in the State Budget to reverse proposed cuts to child welfare funding that counties use to ensure child safety and family stability. This victory ensures that proposed reductions (5% in reimbursement to localities that would have reduced local funding for child welfare protective, prevention, and independent living services, totaling $30.5 million statewide) are rejected and funding remains secure.

To inform our advocacy, CCC and the Coalition of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA) recently surveyed child welfare providers in New York City to learn how prevention programs are helping families with many needs that have increased since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. Responses from more than 350 child welfare staff across the five boroughs confirmed and added to what we have heard anecdotally from providers throughout the pandemic – many New York families have 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. But while prevention programs are helping families with the many needs that have increased since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, funding to support these efforts falls short.

Preliminary findings from our survey include:

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

Since the start of the new contracts on July 1, 2020…

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

How have families’ needs for the following services changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

When asked what needs providers are unable to meet under their service contracts, cash/emergency assistance, non-cash support (such as food or internet access and devices), and housing and rent assistance were among those identified. 

Needs of families that child welfare providers are unable to meet under their service contracts

Total Responses= 234

We are deeply appreciative to leaders in the Senate and Assembly for recognizing the importance of investments in child safety and family stability during these unprecedented times. As the state moves forward in allocating stimulus funding to support localities in its pandemic recovery, it remains critical that our government leaders leverage these investments to position New York for federal Family First Prevention Services Act implementation later this year. Implementation of Family First Prevention aims to expand family stability supports and reduce the need to remove children from their homes. In addition, the State’s child welfare financing structure, which incentivizes positive child welfare outcomes by providing open-ended matching funds when counties invest in services that keep children safe and out of foster care, will sunset next budget session.

With these two transformative issues on the horizon, we have the opportunity to build on progress made in the last two decades, as 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.

We are currently collaborating with COFCCA and their network members to develop an additional survey of providers in counties in upstate New York and Long Island. This effort aims to complement the survey of providers in New York City, and will further inform the perspectives and context needed to strengthen prevention services and supports for families across the state. We will leverage this information as we continue working with the New York State Child Welfare Financing Coalition and CHAMPS-NY to ensure we build on progress made to date and remain squarely focused on strengthening families as a core ingredient in child safety and child, family and community recovery.

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