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!

Child Welfare Watch News Digest - December 12, 2013

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

This week, The New York Times published a remarkable series documenting the lives of an 11-year-old girl named Dasani and her homeless family in Brooklyn. The complete series is available here.

In Governing magazine, John Buntin offers a deep look at the career of William Bratton, Mayor-elect de Blasio’s choice for New York City police commissioner. Bratton is widely known for transforming the NYPD during his short stint as commissioner from 1994 to 1996. Buntin highlights Bratton’s successes as Commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Department in recent years.

  • Center Director Andrew White recently appeared on KCRW's nationally syndicated radio program, To the Point, last week to discuss the Bratton appointment. Audio is available here.

Efforts to raise the minimum wage are gaining attention in cities across the country. On The Atlantic Cities site, Richard Florida makes the case for a local minimum wage. “Given the substantial differences in housing and living costs across U.S. cities and metros, a single minimum wage makes little sense. Workers need much more to get by in San Francisco or New York than in smaller, less expensive cities”.

The Bloomberg Administration is set to close two immunization clinics serving low-income communities in the Bronx and Queens. While dozens of alternative clinics are available in these boroughs, the Corona clinic sits in the community board with the highest share of foreign-born residents in the city and treats clients who speak a wide range of languages and represent a variety of cultures. Read more here on the blog of the NYC Independent Budget Office.

FosterClub, the national network of young people in foster care, recognized 100 Young Leaders for their resilience and commitment for improving foster care.

Join Rise Magazine’s "I’m Reading for Rise" campaign. Between now and December 19, post a photo of yourself reading Rise Magazine and make a donation here.

  • In October, Pia Footman, a parent and editorial assistant at Rise, spoke at the Center’s forum on the impact of poverty and chronic stress on early childhood development. See an interview with Pia Footman or watch the full forum here. Download the most recent issue of the Center's Child Welfare Watch here.

Child Welfare Watch News Digest -- November 26, 2013

Here’s a roundup of this week’s news on low-income children, youth and their families: New York City family court hours will be extended following an NBC4 investigative report exposing trauma to children who were placed in foster care before parents accused of abuse or neglect had a chance to defend themselves. The decision to limit judges’ hours was a result of funding cuts affecting the state’s judiciary. Under the new policy, judges will remain on-call on Friday afternoons and around holidays in order to hear cases that may come up. View the NBC4 report on the new policy here.  Read our own coverage here.

The Center for Law and Social Policy released Promote Family Engagement, a new resource highlighting research on the importance of family engagement in child care and early education programs. Promote Family Engagement is part of CLASP’s “Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care” project, an ongoing effort to link research to policy ideas to help states make the best decisions for infants and toddlers in child care. Read the research summary here.

A recent report by the National Center for Children in Poverty found that only 42 percent of percent of eligible students participate in Head Start. Despite increases in federal funding, states struggle to fund Head Start programs. As a result, thousands of children across the country remain on waiting lists.  Read the full report here.


  • December 4 - Choosing Leaders for a New Era. Join the Center for New York City Affairs for a post-election roundtable discussion including behind-the-scenes stories direct from the campaign teams and analysts. This forum will examine the mayoral, comptroller and public advocate races. RSVP here.

Happy Thanksgiving!


ChildSuccessNYC To Go Citywide

By Gianna Palmer New York City’s foster care system is getting revamped.

Until now, foster care in New York City has operated using best practices guidelines—but few specific requirements—for everything from how to engage birth parents to staff qualifications. The result, foster care workers and child welfare experts say, is that the nonprofit organizations that provide foster care in New York City tend to vary widely in the type and quality of services they offer.

“They come with their own particular reputations for how they treat families and for how effective they are in working with families,” says Emma Ketteringham, managing attorney at The Bronx Defenders, which represents parents with kids in the child welfare system.

Now, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), in coordination with state’s Office of Children and Family Services, is planning a change. For the past year, ACS has piloted a set of child welfare initiatives known collectively as ChildSuccessNYC. The initiatives provide foster care agencies with specific methods to be used for recruiting and training foster parents, working with parents, and preparing teens in foster care for adult life on their own, among other things.

Five New York City foster care agencies took part in the pilot; together they serve 20 percent of the foster care population. Thanks to a recent Obama administration waiver that allows for more flexible use of federal child welfare funding, ACS plans to roll out ChildSuccessNYC citywide by 2015.

The waiver allows ACS (and other New York state child welfare agencies, if they choose) to use what are known as ‘Title IV-E funds,’ which are normally restricted to paying maintenance costs such as food and clothing for foster children, to cover ChildSuccessNYC services like classes for parents of foster children and “aftercare” programs that support families after they’ve been reunified.

ACS and other ChildSuccessNYC proponents are thrilled that the program will expand, and say it is off to a promising start.

“It is a much more intensive model than we have ever had before,” says ACS Commissioner Ronald E. Richter. “What we have seen with the five pilot agencies is that parents and foster parents and young people are feeling a lot more supported.”

Richter explains this is due, in part, to more one-on-one attention for parents and youth, as well as reduced caseloads for foster case workers and their supervisors.

Sylvia Rowlands oversaw the ChildSuccessNYC rollout at The New York Foundling, the first of the five pilot foster care agencies to implement the program. She says ChildSuccessNYC has so far enabled much better communication and accountability between families, children and agency staffers.

“There are a lot more resources and a lot more intersection points,” Rowlands says, adding, “There’s a lot more opportunities for people to say, ‘How’s that going?’

ChildSuccessNYC has injected much-needed structure into every aspect of foster care, Rowlands says. “All of the tools that have been offered, that we’ve been trained on, are very prescribed and proscribed,” Rowland explains. “Do this, don’t do that.”

Not everyone in the child welfare community thinks this is a good thing, however.

“That takes us back to what we have been doing all along in child welfare, which is really dictating to families what services and what programs they’re going to be involved in,” says Sandra Killett, executive director of the Child Welfare Organizing Project.

Killett believes there should be room for families to decide for themselves what services are appropriate for them. She says that, to her knowledge, no parents from the child welfare system were involved in deciding which program models to incorporate into ChildSuccessNYC.

The disparate models that make up ChildSuccessNYC are evidence-based; that is, a version of each of them has been previously tested in controlled trials. Child welfare workers describe this as part of a cultural shift toward evidence-based foster care service delivery.

However, none of the program models that ChildSuccessNYC draws from have been fully tested in New York City, and this particular combination of models has never been tried together, anywhere.

Richter says he isn’t concerned that programs that make up ChildSuccessNYC represent a “unique, New York City model of care.”

“While it is true that they haven’t been tested in New York, part of the point of using evidence-based practices is there is a certain reliability that these models will, in fact, perform,” says Richter.

Just how ChildSuccessNYC has performed remains to be seen. Researchers from the University of Chicago have been evaluating the five ChildSuccessNYC pilot programs since they began, but their preliminary findings won’t be available until early 2014. By then, a second round of foster care agencies will have already begun adopting the ChildSuccssNYC programs.

Despite Richter’s optimism for ChildSuccessNYC, he readily admits, “There’s no question that there are going to be parents for whom these models, or part of this model, won’t work,” he says.

Even with prescriptive evidence-based models, Richter says, when problems arise, “You figure out how to work with that parent to develop a plan that makes them comfortable, and that is tailored to them.”

There is, therefore, at least one thing that ChildSuccessNYC supporters and skeptics alike can agree on: there is no foster care model that will fit everyone.

Child Welfare Watch News Digest -- October 31, 2013

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

  • Represent Magazine’s fall issue features new stories by foster youth, including one young woman’s struggles as she aged out of foster care and transitioned to being on her own.

  • In The New York Times’ Fixes column, David Bornstein examines toxic stress in children and how we can protect them from its effects. “What the science is telling us now is how experience gets into the brain as it’s developing its basic architecture,” explains Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. “These insights provide an opportunity to think about new ways we might try to reduce the academic achievement gap and health disparities — and not just do the same old things.” (For Child Welfare Watch's recent report on toxic stress and New York's youngest children, click here.)

  • Nicholas Kristof’s October 27 column highlighted the multiple benefits of early childhood education, acknowledging  that “growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is...early education programs.”

  • In “Out of Foster Care, Into College,” Michael Winerip chronicles foster youth in college and the support programs colleges that are helping them succeed.

  • A new study published in Developmental Science shows that language discrepancies between children of wealthier parents and their low-income counterparts begins even earlier. According to the study, the language gap can be observed in children as young as 18 months old, much earlier than had been previously observed.


  • November 12 - Mathematica Policy Research will host a forum on housing supports for youth aging out of foster care. The forum is being held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • November 13 - The federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will meet to discuss the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its implications for adolescent and young adult populations, including youth transitioning from juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Watch Interviews from our Recent Event "Baby Steps: Poverty, Chronic Stress, and New York's Youngest Children"

On October 4th, Child Welfare Watch hosted a forum on New York City's youngest children. Our panel of experts discussed what babies and very small children need in order to grow healthy and strong--and the potentially devastating impacts of poverty and chronic stress on early childhood development. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, M.D., is the FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Education; professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital; and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Shonkoff talks about how babies' brains develop:

Shonkoff on the role of communities in building parents' capacity to support child development:

Piazadora Footman is a parent; an editorial assistant at Rise, a magazine written by and for parents in the child welfare system; and a former participant in the Chances for Children dyadic therapy program for parents and very young children.

Here, she talks about the difference between hands-on, parent-child therapy and traditional, classroom-based parenting classes:

You can also watch a full video of the forum here:

How does the federal shutdown affect NYC children and families?

When Congress shut down the federal government nine days ago (and counting), billions of dollars stopped flowing from D.C. to state and local governments. With notable exceptions, most social safety net programs have kept running, using a patchwork of funds left over from the last fiscal year, contingency dollars from federal agencies, and money from state and local governments. What does the shutdown mean for programs that serve children and families in New York City?

In most cases, the answer is not much...yet. The majority of social service programs are safely funded through the month of October—either because they have carryover money from before the shutdown, or because the programs don’t follow the yearly federal budget cycle.

If the shutdown lasts into November, then city programs—and the families they serve—will face much bigger problems. Contingency funding plans, created by many federal agencies to help programs ride out the shutdown, only last through October 31. Few state or city agencies have the kind of rainy-day money that would keep programs running for long, without federal dollars coming in. The standard public statement offered by city agencies is that they won’t speculate on November.

The uncertainty is particularly damaging for organizations like food banks and soup kitchens, which anticipate increased demand due to major cuts in the federal food stamp program, set to take effect in November regardless of what happens with the shutdown.

Read on for a rundown of the shutdown’s consequences for New York City programs. Of course, these assume that Congress doesn’t default on its debts on October 17. In that case, all bets are off.


Food Stamps: Federal money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) is safe until the end of the month. That’s because Congress authorized funding for the program as part of the Recovery Act, back in 2009. Since the authorization was already set to last until October 31 of this year, SNAP wasn’t subject to new budget appropriations on October 1.

If the shutdown lasts into November, the US Department of Agriculture has said that it will disburse about $2 billion in contingency funds, which states can use to keep their SNAP programs going.

However, come next month, SNAP will face cutbacks that have nothing to do with the shutdown. Not only will the program almost certainly be cut when Congress passes the Farm Bill (before the shutdown, the Senate’s version of the bill included a SNAP cut of $4.1 billion; the House of Representatives’ bill slashed the program by $40 billion over 10 years), but it will also be subject to a cut that’s been pending since 2010. As part of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” nearly three years ago, Congress funded an increase in school lunch reimbursements by planning a major cut to SNAP, scheduled to take effect November 1 of this year. If the cut goes into effect, New York City residents will lose $19 million per month in food stamp benefits, according to an analysis by the Food Bank for New York City.

Women, Infants and Children (WIC): At the beginning of the week, WIC, the federal program that helps pay for food for pregnant women, new parents and kids up to age 5, looked to be at serious risk of shutting down. Yesterday, however, the USDA released new guidance allowing states to tap into a pot of contingency money, which should keep the program running through October 31. If the shutdown lasts into November, New York State would likely need to come up with its own money to cover the lack of federal funds.

Emergency Food: Last-resort food programs like food banks and soup kitchens rely heavily on federal support. The Food Bank for New York City, which funnels most of the emergency food that goes to hungry New Yorkers, gets about half of its food supplies through the USDA’s The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

The TEFAP supply is safe for this month, because the program had purchased October food before the shutdown. But since no new orders can be placed, TEFAP food will disappear if the shutdown drags into November.

School Lunches: School lunch money comes through the federal Office of Child Nutrition Programs, which has said there are enough carryover funds from last year’s budget to cover meals through the end of October. If the shutdown continues and federal funds dry up in November, advocates speculate that City Hall will likely cover the costs. But with nearly 80 percent of the city’s public school students eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, that would be a major, unforeseen hit to the city’s budget.

Cash Assistance: New York State’s Family Assistance (FA) program provides temporary benefits to needy families with children. Technically, FA shouldn’t be touched by the shutdown, since it operates under the federal government’s basic welfare program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF), which is a mandatory program and therefore not reliant on yearly appropriations. However, TANF does have to be renewed by Congress. The program’s current authorization expired on September 30th, but states are are allowed to use their own money and carryover funds from last fiscal year to keep the program going.

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) says that the Family Assistance program will operate as usual through October 31. A spokesperson declined to speculate on what might happen if the shutdown continues into November.


Head Start: None of the city’s Head Start programs are at risk of closing this month. Most of the programs, which serve low-income kids aged 3-5, are administered by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). While ACS uses federal dollars to fund the programs, its contracts started earlier this year and are not immediately dependent on a new federal budget.

Fortunately for city kids, none of the Head Start programs located in the city had federal contracts up for renewal in October.Nationally, 23 Head Start programs (serving a total of 19,000 kids) were up for contract renewal on October 1, according to the National Head Start Association. Until they were rescued yesterday by a billionaire couple from Texas, seven programs had shut down and six were on the brink—including one in upstate New York.

Schools: Public schools are "forward funded," which means they obtained this year’s federal funding–which covers about 10 percent of the school system’s operating expenses—in last year’s budget and will not be affected by the shutdown.

Childcare and After School: Most of the city’s subsidized childcare programs operate under contract with ACS. Since their contracts started earlier this year, they are not immediately affected by the federal budget or the shutdown.

After school programs administered by the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) and the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) are similarly immune to the federal budget cycle, since their contracts began earlier this year.


Like public schools, child support and foster care services received advanced appropriations in last year’s federal budget, leaving them untouched by the shutdown.


Public Housing: There is enough carryover and contingency money to fund public housing through the end of October, according to a plan released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on October 2.

Section 8: Housing Choice (also known as Section 8) vouchers covering October rents were disbursed before the shutdown. HUD predicts that carryover money will fund November vouchers if the shutdown continues.

Homeless Shelters: The city’s homeless shelter operators, which contract directly with the NYC Department of Homeless Services, are not affected by the shutdown.


New Edition of CWW - Baby Steps: Poverty, chronic stress, and New York’s youngest children

Scientific research has firmly established that early childhood experiences can have a tremendous impact on our lifelong well-being. When infants are exposed to chronic stress or trauma, the effect can be toxic, stunting brain growth and changing the trajectories of their lives.

Read More