Monday, July 13, 2020

Andrew Cuomo’s child welfare agency pits current foster youth against future foster youth

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

To help prevent some foster youth from becoming homeless, the state Office of Children and Family Services is using money meant to help keep children out of the system in the first place.

            Every year about 18,000 young people “age out” of foster care. Their own parents were taken from them, and that promised “forever family” never showed up.  It’s the last in a long line of traumas, injustices and betrayals inflicted upon them by child welfare systems in the name of “saving” them from their parents.  Other young people may depend on their parents for all sorts of support, from love to money, into their mid-20s or beyond.  Foster youth, who often need such help more than anyone, are on their own at age 21 – or sometimes, age 18.

            This comes on top of the trauma of being torn from their own parents in the first place – sometimes for good reason, but often not – then often separated from their brothers and sisters and moved from foster home to foster home.

            The assorted patchwork of aid programs for such youth is a tiny fraction of what we owe them.

            Now, add coronavirus to the mix: At a time when the best advice is to stay home, thousands of foster youth are being made homeless.

            At least nine states and Washington, D.C. have responded by saying foster youth can remain in care during the pandemic. But in New York, where individual counties and New York City run child welfare, the state had said to counties the same thing it’s said to foster youth: You’re on your own!

            Until now.

Now the state is telling the counties they need to help these youth – but to do that, the state is, in effect, stealing money from preventing another generation from ever entering foster care in the first place.

            The Chronicle of Social Change reports that

In a letter sent July 3, Sheila Poole, commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, advised county social services leaders that they are now required to identify young adults in foster care who have no identified permanency resources and who are either at risk of homelessness, applying for welfare benefits, or have significant unmet service needs.
“Youth who meet the above criteria must be affirmatively offered the option to remain in their current placement setting or other financial support for a setting of the young adult’s choice that is of equal or better safety and stability,” she wrote.

            This covers only a narrow subset of the youth who need help.  But even this is being paid for in part at the expense of helping families stay together.  To fund this extra assistance the state is allowing counties and New York City to use about $3 million in state aid originally intended to be used to meet the requirements of  a new federal law, the so-called Family First Prevention Services Act.

            Family First, is supposed to help curb the misuse and overuse of foster care in the first place. In fact, for a variety of reasons, it’s not likely to do very much of that – but that’s still the intent.  The $3 million in state aid is meant to help localities meet the requirements of the act.

That money is less than one-one-hundredth-of-one-percent of the state general fund portion of the New York State budget.  Surely a governor as brilliant as New York’s Andrew Cuomo can find, somewhere in that budget, even more than $3 million to spare. He should be able to find enough to fund more comprehensive proposals to help the current foster youth New York State has let down all these years, without stealing it from a program designed, however feebly, to reduce the number of youth the state will let down the same way in the future.

            One place to look: The $1 billion budget for the New York State Police. That agency could probably use a little defunding.