EDITORIAL: Don’t neglect foster care in state budget

Vulnerable children and their caregivers need help more than ever
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

However Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature figure out what to cut from a state budget with a pending $15 billion deficit, they need to preserve funding for the most vulnerable among us.

The elderly. The infirm. The indigent.

But a vulnerable population that doesn’t get the attention or funding it needs is children in foster care and the people who take care of them.

As of December 2018, there were 15,820 youth in foster care in New York, according to the state Office of Children and Family Services. That number has been in decline for the past decade. Still, the need for families and services is great, and the state can’t neglect this often-overlooked segment of our population, regardless of the state’s current or future financial situation.

Those on the front lines of the foster care system are seeking to improve the quality of care by working hard to ensure that foster children are placed in the care of family members whenever possible, and that these family members have the resources they need to provide these children with a safe and healthy upbringing.

Studies have shown that foster kids who grow up with family members do better than those who are placed in nonfamily homes or institutional settings.

Yet here in New York, state policies and funding don’t reflect that reality.

According to the advocacy group CHAMPS-NY (Children Need AMazing Parents), New York state outside of New York City lags behind the national average in family and kin-based placement of foster children — 32% nationally compared with 17% here in New York after a year in care.

Advocates for more family placement say the state needs to invest more in programs like the Family First Transition Fund and Kinship Guardian Assistance Program to get more kids placed with family members.

The governor in his executive budget introduced in January supported a kinship “firewall” that would guarantee that counties exhaust all opportunities to place children with family members before placing them in other situations like group homes and congregate care institutions.

Advocates are seeking to ensure the Family First Transition Fund is funded at $4.5 million per year for the next two years. If that can’t be accomplished during the state’s fiscal crisis, then lawmakers need to at least maintain existing levels of funding.

That $4.5 million is a drop in the bucket of a nearly $180 billion state budget, but the funding is vital to ensure that these kids get the quality of life they need. 

The challenges facing foster children and foster parents are never-ending. 

Compensation for families to take care of foster children is an ongoing problem. It takes a lot of money to care for a child, and it’s challenging enough for families to open up their homes to a child without compounding that with financial obstacles.

Foster parents not only need money, but training and regular support.

There’s a reason why a third of foster families leave the program within the first year.

This kind of instability isn’t good for the children, the families and the government staff whose mission is to find good homes for these kids.

To complement existing efforts to find healthy homes for foster children, the state needs to create an office of foster care ombudsman to help promote and support the effort on behalf of government agencies, families and foster children.

A lot of parents aren’t equipped to deal with the challenges of hosting a foster child, and an ombudsman office would provide them with a necessary recourse to seek help when the going gets rough.

Doctors take an oath to first do no harm.

That oath applies as equally to the welfare of children as it does to medicine.

In evaluating what should be included in the state budget, lawmakers and the governor need to ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable population — our children — don’t get shortchanged.

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