Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered a vision for New York in her 2023 State of the State address earlier this month. Absent from the governor’s vision? New York’s most vulnerable children and families in the state’s child welfare system.
Today in New York, there are approximately 16,000 children and youth in foster care, and thousands of families served through prevention services, services designed to support families and keep them safely together.
The governor committed to a significant investment for assisting individuals with mental health challenges in New York, but did not recognize anywhere in her plan that the state’s child welfare system has workers on the front lines supporting thousands of families with navigating mental health challenges every day. And she did not commit to an 8.5 percent human services cost-of-living adjustment desperately needed for programs to keep up with inflation.
The state diminished rates of reimbursement to foster care programs this past year, and in so doing, it discarded a long-established rate-setting system without advance notice or discussion to providers. New York’s foster care programs do not know today what rate they will receive to provide care and services for children and youth starting April 1, so they have no way to plan ahead. The state must stabilize this funding and increase rates appropriately to keep up with inflation.
The governor’s inaction has allowed unabated turnover in the child welfare workforce to continue, which the state cannot afford: Every time a worker leaves, a family must start therapeutic work over again.
New York has an opportunity this year to finally bolster foster care workforce salaries to ensure the sector has the workforce needed to care for our most vulnerable children and youth. New York can create career pathways for workers wanting to enter and stay in the child welfare field. And the state can finally increase investment in initiatives to prevent children from entering the foster care system, and in so doing make real efforts to reduce family separation.
New York state is not living up to its responsibility to provide adequate funding for the full continuum of care for children and youth in the child welfare system — but that can change starting this year in the governor’s executive budget.
Kathleen Brady-Stepien is president and CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, a membership association representing the state’s child welfare nonprofit organizations.