New York Budget Spares City’s Child Welfare System. Juvenile Justice Reform Efforts Not So Much

New York City’s child welfare system funding survived the state legislature’s efforts to close a $4.4 billion deficit, but the city will be on its own to handle ballooning juvenile justice costs, imperiling sweeping reform efforts from recent years.

Advocates hailed the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to implement what’s been called a “prevention cap.” The cap would have limited to $320 million a reimbursement to New York City for up to 62 percent of its spending on programs that support families at risk of having their children removed due to abuse or neglect allegations.

The New York 2019 budget cuts off funds for NYC juvenile justice, just before a state reform increases the size of the system dramatically.

“This was a critical win for us. We had to push back on the governor’s proposal because this is enormously important to us. It preserves the open-ended state support for all of our preventive services, which are very substantial in New York City,” said David Hansell, the commissioner of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

This generous funding stream, for things like opioid addiction treatment or parenting skills training, has helped make the state a national leader in funding services to prevent the placement of children into foster care. Cuomo’s office unsuccessfully argued that New York City’s fiscal position was far better than the cash-strapped state’s, and so the city could pick up a bigger share of the cost of these efforts.

The budget still amounted to what the New York Times called a “fusillade” against Cuomo’s progressive rival, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, with stringent proposals for funding and oversight of the city’s subways and public housing, among other items.

State legislators also agreed on several proposals that targeted the city’s juvenile justice system. The spending plan eliminates state funding for New York City’s nationally recognized Close to Home program, which limited incarceration sentences for New York City’s juvenile offenders, or had them placed in local facilities instead of upstate jails and prisons. The budget also excludes the city from $100 million in state funding to follow-through on Cuomo’s landmark Raise the Age law, which moved the age at which judges can send youth through the adult justice system from 16 (the lowest in the nation) up to 18.

Both of these initiatives involved some variation of the same idea: moving young offenders out of draconian institutions and into nurturing, small-scale facilities closer to their home communities, in line with decades of psychology and neurological research that has shifted the consensus on youth offenders’ criminal culpability and capacity to reform.

The cost of Close to Home will balloon in the next few years as the Raise the Age plan goes into effect. The state estimates that counties outside the city can absorb older teenagers into the juvenile justice system with an increase of 262 beds. But Close to Home placements in the city will need to go from 195 beds to an estimated 685, a more than a three-fold increase in capacity.

“Eliminating all state financial support for Close to Home is very troubling for us,” Hansell said. “Our commitment to the program will continue, but we’re very concerned about the state’s withdrawal of funding. We are now going to have to regroup with city leadership to determine how we’re going to move the program forward without state support.”

The budget also included provisions increasing the state’s involvement in shutting down the tragedy-plagued youth jail on Riker’s Island, where in one infamous case a teenager committed suicide after a three-year wait for a trial on the island. Statewide funding for children’s mental health, child care and after-school programs will also increase.

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 37 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change

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