Child welfare groups speak out against funding cuts in proposed budget

Legislative Gazette photo
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi speaks to reporters about the Close to Home initiative in Albany this week.

Child welfare advocacy groups are criticizing the governor for proposing to defund the Close to Home juvenile justice placement program and cap New York City’s child welfare services funding stream.

The New York State Child Welfare Coalition (NYSCWC) views these potential policy changes, proposed in the Executive Budget, as a considerable step backwards. The CWC, along with other child welfare advocate groups, fear that the quality of life for the city youth who rely on the continued funding of these services will be diminished.

According to the CWC, since the implementation of Raise the Age is slated to triple the number of juvenile cases, the eradication of the Close to Home program will leave New York City with no resources to support Raise the Age.

“The Close to Home initiative was Cuomo’s idea,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, D-Queens, at a CWC Press Conference in Albany on Feb. 12. “How does it make sense to then introduce a reform like Raise the Age that will increase the need for the a program he wants to eliminate (Close to Home).”

Hevesi described Cuomo’s proposal to cap New York City’s child welfare funding stream as “galactically stupid,” noting that since the structure was put in place in 2002, the city has become a national model for effective, high quality preventive services, decreasing juvenile justice detention and the reduction of foster care use.

“Don’t tell me that there is no money for these programs,” Hevesi said. “Anyone who tells you there is no money is lying to you.”

According to the CWC, parents, providers and advocates from throughout the state believe the Budget proposes to “shirk” the commitment to providing care for children and families the State and counties currently share.

“Even though the proposal only applies to the city, it will set a negative precedence for other counties as well,” said Kari Siddiqui, senior policy analyst for the Schuyler Center. “To those outside the city: this impacts all of us.”

When asked to comment on the potential elimination of Close to Home at a Senate Democratic Conference press conference introducing the Executive Budget’s comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Package, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stuart-Cousins said “The reality is is that the way we always envisioned Raise the Age is that it is a complete thing, you have to be able to support the services that are in the children’s home community to have this as an effective program. So we will continue as we have before to really advocate for resources going into the communities to make sure there are those diversions and opportunities for kids to get on a good path and stay on a good path.”

At the CWC press conference, Martin De Porres Group Homes Coordinator of training Colin Parks and Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) Program Director Joyce McMillian emphasized the importance of giving city youth the resources and support necessary for a better future than what they grew up in — resources and support of which are funded by the child welfare services funding stream.

“Neglect and abuse are not the same thing,” McMillan said. “Children who are neglected have parents who need help in taking care of them. We need services to raise up these families as a unit — children belong with their families.”

Parks referred to the children who are need of welfare services as “the least, the last and the lost.”

“They are have the least resources, they are the last to be thought of and they are lost because of a lack of positive role models,” Parks said.

Through initiatives like MDP’s The Role Model Program, youth are given opportunities to go new places and have new experiences, which broadens their horizons and dreams for what their life could be.

“They come home from the program wanting to make a change, because they themselves have been changed,” Parks said.

Those present and represented at the press conference who echoed dismay for Cuomo’s proposal included the Citizens’ Committee for Children, Schulyer Center for Analysis and Advocacy, The Legal Aid Society, Rise, the New York Children’s Defense Fund, Sheltering Arms, The Children’s Village, Lawyers for Children, The Children’s Village, Martin De Porres Group Homes, Northern River Family of Services and the New York Founding.