New Report – Big Dreams for New York City's Youngest Children: The future of early care and education

In October 2012, New York City launched EarlyLearnNYC, a plan that would upend its system for providing subsidized child care to working class and low-income families. The goal was to take the city’s sprawling assortment of child care programs—ranging from subsidized babysitting services to nationally accredited preschools—and blend them into a unified, holistic spectrum of early education services for children from 6 weeks through 4 years old.

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Recommendations & Solutions – Big Dreams for New York’s Youngest Children: The future of early care and education

RECOMMENDATIONS AND SOLUTIONS By establishing full-day, universal pre-kindergarten for New York City’s 4-year-olds, Mayor Bill de Blasio has demonstrated a powerful commitment to early childhood education. His administration now has the opportunity to broaden that vision and strengthen the city’s subsidized programs for early care and education serving the city’s youngest residents, children aged 0 to 3.

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Homes to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Families who experience homelessness are more likely to have their children placed in foster care than other low-income families, reports City Limits in a profile about a new housing program. Run by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Keeping Families Together (KFT) is one of the country’s first supportive housing programs created with the explicit mission of keeping kids out of foster care. KFT provides families with permanent housing and the option to receive services that can help them create safe, healthy environments for their children. Families eligible for KFT must be chronically homeless and parents must suffer from substance abuse, mental illness, or both. However, sobriety testing and service participation is not a requirement of the program, which relies on staff who respect residents’ autonomy while supporting their goals.

KFT currently houses 26 families in six privately operated sites in New York City, where 22,0000 children are homeless each night. So far, the program is showing promising results. While a small number of families have withdrawn from KFT voluntarily, often due to a need for more intensive services, the families who stick with it have seen a marked decrease in child welfare involvement. KFT families had 46 cases of indicated child abuse and neglect cases in the three years before they entered the program. In the three years after moving in, families had only 13 new indicated cases of abuse or neglect cases, with none of those cases leading to new children entering foster care.

Families, Stability and the Return from Prison

With incarceration rates in the U.S. still near an all-time high, the transition from prison back to the community is a remarkably common occurrence in low-income communities. In 2010, 700,000 men and women nationwide left prison, writes Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, “and incarceration rates for male high school dropouts under age 35 reached 12 percent for whites and 35 percent for African Americans.” Western’s most recent paper, published online as part of a Kennedy School of Government seminar series on inequality, describes the sometimes counter-intuitive findings of his work on the Boston Reentry Study and points to some of the most fundamental challenges facing society and government today.

Western and his colleagues describe some of the misconceptions about how people return to life in the community, and most importantly, how people adapt—or fail to adapt—to life outside the prison walls. They followed 122 newly-released prisoners during their first months after release, and found that 44 percent were able to find employment and some degree of stability. Their qualitative interviews also showed the degree to which, for many of the subjects, extreme material insecurity was accompanied by anxiety and feelings of isolation.

During the first two months after incarceration, about 40 percent relied heavily on mostly female relatives—mothers, sisters, and grandmothers—for financial support and housing. For the former prisoners, “connecting with family, finding housing, and a means of subsistence” were all essential for a successful transition. Not everyone achieves it, especially those who are most isolated from their families--particularly those over age 45, or who had histories of drug addictions and mental illness.

In other words, family matters a lot—and the support of female relatives appears to be integral to a more stable return, especially for younger men and women. Perhaps, Western writes, there is a role for government and the civic sector to play in more intentionally supporting these families, in order to promote lasting stability.

Income Inequality Associated with Child Maltreatment

According to a study in the upcoming March 2014 issue of Pediatrics, higher rates of child maltreatment are statistically correlated with higher levels of income inequality in counties across the United States. The study compared data on income inequality in more than 3,100 counties nationwide, and found a close association with rates of abuse and neglect as tracked by federal government data. Pediatrics is the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Child abuse and neglect have long been linked to poverty. What’s new in this study is the finding that inequality itself may be a factor to consider in addressing abuse and neglect. The lead author, Professor John Eckenrode of Cornell, and his colleagues controlled for a wide array of variables, and found that the statistical effect of inequality “was stronger for counties with moderate to high levels of child poverty.” Nonetheless, across the US, counties with higher rates of income inequality were significantly more likely to have higher rates of abuse and neglect.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to specifically examine income inequality as an important risk factor associated with child maltreatment,” they write.

Previously, researchers have estimated that nearly 3 million children in the Unites States are physically, sexually or emotionally abused or physically neglected each year. Others have shown the direct linkages between abuse and neglect and long-term mental health problems, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior and criminal behavior, and even lifelong poverty. In the paper to be published in Pediatrics, Eckenrode argues that comprehensive efforts to reduce abuse and neglect may require “advocacy and action at the societal level aimed at reducing income inequality.”

More on the intersection of child poverty and trauma

Documentation of the impact of poverty on children becomes ever deeper and more powerful: A recent study published by the Urban Institute found significant rates of school related problems, risky behavior and mental health problems for youths living in distressed public housing. In their report, they show the risk that children face when in poverty, particularly for young girls living in low-income housing where many of them experience harassment, abuse, and sexual assault, and the trauma that results. 

The study is drawn from a 2012 survey of parents and young people living in Chicago and Portland sites participating in a $6 million Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) collaboration with the Open Society Institute. Researchers concluded that young girls have significant high rates of anxiety, out of school suspension and sexual activity. In Chicago, about 55 percent of the young people surveyed experienced anxiety, 50 percent experienced out of school suspension and, in both the Chicago and Portland sites, about 54 percent experienced high rates of sexual activity.

Susan Popkin, Director of the Urban Institute's Program on Neighborhoods and Youth Development, explains in a recent Metrotrends blog post that the young girls feel a sense of powerlessness which not only comes from not believing anyone can help them, but also from the fact that they do not feel safe in their own homes, since much of the abuse they experience comes at the hands of people they know.

These findings are reinforced by an excellent summary of research (with many links to the original studies) published by Child Trends last month, which describes the many ways in which poverty harms children.

The Urban Institute is working in public housing in Washington DC to help girls who experience chronic disadvantage by creating programs to address the prevalence of sexual harassment. Their research also demonstrates the great need for access to mental health supports and services that can help to reduce the risks facing low-income women and young girls.


LGBTQ Homeless Youth Undercount?

As January came to a close, city and state governments and volunteers nationwide set out to count the number of homeless people living on their streets. As Sarah Goodyear reports in Atlantic Cities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people are likely underrepresented by a large margin in most of these local and national efforts. Mary Cunningham, a senior research associate of the Urban Institute, estimates LGBTQ young people could make up as much as 40 percent of all homeless teens and young adults. That estimate is reinforced by a study released last November  by the New York City Coalition on the Continuum of Care. Darrick Hamilton of The New School and Lance Freeman of Columbia guided a team of researchers surveying young people at New York City drop-in centers during the city's annual homeless street count. They found that 34 percent were lesbian, gay or bisexual and another 6 percent were transgendered. All but 10 percent of the young people identified and surveyed were black or Latino. Two thirds had run away from home before age 18, and one-third said physical, mental or sexual abuse was one reason for their homelessness.

Most had been homeless for a long period of time -- the median was two years. Yet almost half had at some point earned a high school diploma.

The findings of one-night, point-in-time surveys are not necessarily generalizable. The Urban Institute aims to strengthen data about homeless youth using the Youth Count! Project, in order to help cities better target services, schooling, health care and housing. More info on the project can be found here.

Child Welfare Watch News Digest - January 6, 2014

Here's some of the latest public policy news on low-income children, youth and families:

Last week, the Coalition for the Homeless released a policy brief that takes a critical look at former Mayor Bloomberg’s Advantage rent subsidy program, which ended in early 2011. The report finds that nearly half of families whose Advantage Program subsidies ran out returned to the shelter system. The cost to taxpayers of families returning to shelter is nearly $287 million. Read the full report here.

The Chronicle of Social Change examined notable developments in child welfare and juvenile justice in 2014, including the growing number of states keeping juvenile delinquents (youth 17 and younger) out of adult court, and proposed changes to federal support for state and local child welfare services. Read the full article here.

Bloomberg Businessweek examines Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to use a portion of New York City Pension funds for affordable housing. According to the de Blasio’s plan, $1 billion in pension funds would be directed towards housing, resulting in an additional 11,000 units over eight years. Critics of this approach cite competition from banks and declining federal funds for housing subsidies as key hurdles the de Blasio administration will have to overcome. Read the full article here.


January 16 - The Center for New York City Affairs will host “Taking the Fear Out of Financial Aid: Making Higher Ed Easier to Achieve.” The Center will also release the latest edition of its “FAFSA: How-To Guide for High School Students.” The event will include a keynote by Bridget Terry Long and a discussion about how to improve college affordability for the next generation of students. For more details and to register, click here.

Child Welfare Watch News Digest - December 19, 2013

Here's a roundup of this week's news affecting low-income children, youth and their families:

In New York Magazine, Mara Gay wrote about the city's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) new strategy for finding good homes for foster kids -- through Facebook. Borrowing a tactic used by the Red Cross to reconnect refugees with their relatives, ACS began experimenting with Facebook to find long lost relatives of foster kids. The experiment is small so far, but this model has the potential to change the way the agency handles finding families for foster children. Read more here.

In an effort to address the language disparity between low-income children and their peers, Providence, Rhode Island is testing out Providence Talks, a new intervention designed to measure parents’ communication with their children. Based on data collected from a ‘pedometer for words,’ parents will receive coaching on how and when they might speak with their child more often. The model aims to address the socioeconomic vocabulary gap between low-income children and their peers before children begin school. Read more about the program here.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee approved a bipartisan package of legislation to improve child welfare in America. The Supporting At-Risk Children Act includes provisions to strengthen and renew adoption incentive and foster care policies, combat child sex trafficking, and improve the collection of child support payments from non-custodial parents living overseas. A full summary of the legislation is available here.

The New England Journal of Medicine highlighted a Cuomo Administration initiative that invests in supportive housing for homeless and unstably housed Medicaid recipients. Research has shown that supportive housing can lead to improved health, decreased hospital use and reduced healthcare spending. This program recognizes the benefits of a coordinated approach, and aims to break down some of the barriers between the two sectors. Read the full article here.

Due to the holidays, the Child Welfare Watch News Digest will be on hiatus until January.  Happy Holidays!