Thursday, November 12, 2009

Foster care in New York City: One shocking, shameful stat


The group that so arrogantly calls itself Children's Rights (CR) has a new report out about foster care in New York City. Considering who wrote it, it's not nearly as bad as it could have been; something I'll discuss in a future post. But one statistic the report unearths is so shocking, and such a damning indictment of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, that it demands special attention.

    It concerns guardianships – a form of permanence that is particularly valuable when a child is placed in kinship care with a relative. Often grandma may be ready, willing and able to raise a grandchild as her own – but she doesn't want to go to court to terminate her own daughter's parental rights. With guardianship, she doesn't have to do that, the child still attains a measure of permanence almost as complete as with adoption, and the family gets the child welfare agency out of their lives.

    But if grandma was a formally-licensed foster parent, she could not get the same payments once she became a guardian, unless the state or locality chose to fund it. That's because the federal government would not chip in, the way it does with adoption subsidies. Some states decided that guardianship was such a good option they would pick up the tab for what became known as "subsidized guardianships." Others, notably Illinois, obtained waivers allowing federal funds to be used for them. That's one of the things that propelled Illinois into the forefront of what are, relatively speaking, reformed child welfare systems.

    And now, federal law has been changed and the feds will pay as much for guardianship subsidies as they do for adoption subsidies. In addition, even unsubsidized guardianship can be a viable option for relatives who are not formally licensed as foster parents and so never got foster care subsidies in the first place.

    But some states won't opt in, because, even with the federal government helping, they don't want to pay the state or local share. Among those states is New York. But that's not only because of money, it's also because someone who once was among the most progressive leaders in child welfare, the commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, John Mattingly, is falling farther and farther behind best practice in the field. As I wrote on this Blog in August:

Mattingly [argued] in an e-mail to a New York City think tank that

"Those of us who have been in the field long enough know that most times, relatives will adopt if reunification is not a live option, if the agency supports them in their decision, and if it will achieve permanence for the child. In sum, kinship guardianship can be the best option for a small percentage of children, but the State of New York needs to be careful to craft regulations for its use that will continue the emphasis on adoption for most children who cannot return home."

In other words: If we strong arm grandma (by say, saying if you don't do it, we'll transfer your grandchild into the home of strangers), she'll go to court and push to terminate mom's parental rights. While that may make the adoption numbers look good, it's not necessarily best for the grandchildren. Furthermore, the Child Welfare Organizing Project
(CWOP) points out that in Illinois, a national leader in subsidized guardianship, formal adoptions actually increased after guardianship was added to the menu of options. For another example of a smarter perspective on this issue, see
the response from Generations United in Youth Today….

And even Michigan (Michigan!) has proven more receptive to subsidized guardianship, with their child welfare agency noting the special concerns in the African American and Native American communities about terminating a relative's parental rights.

    Well, now it turns out that Mattingly has backed up his words with inaction. The CR report found that in all of Fiscal Year 2008, in one of the largest child welfare systems in the United States not one single foster child – not one – was placed in the guardianship of a relative. Fewer than two percent of New York City foster children even have "discharge to relative" as their primary permanency goal. Apparently ACS would rather let them languish in foster care until they can strong arm grandma into an adoption.