New York City child welfare commissioner David Hansell suggested yesterday his agency would continue to maintain lower caseloads for foster youth case planners thanks to a federal bill passed by Congress last month.
The Family First Transition Act was approved just before the holidays. Under the bill, the city expects to receive $40 or 50 million in federal funding over the next two years as a replacement for another funding stream that was set to expire, Hansell said at a press conference yesterday at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) headquarters.
“[Our spending] will be largely the same as what we had been investing in under the waiver, we may tweak it a little bit based on what we’ve learned,” said Hansell, describing Strong Families NYC, ACS’ local experiment allowing case planners to work with fewer foster youth at the same time. One early evaluation found that the lower caseloads (around 12 youth for each worker) and other services correlated with youth leaving foster care 50 days more quickly, along with other positive outcomes.
“Fundamentally, we want to continue to do the same interventions over the next two years,” added Hansell, responding to a question from The Chronicle of Social Change.
Congress passed the Family First Transition Act to provide two-year stop-gap dollars to help jurisdictions prepare for two major changes: The expiration of a decades-old waiver program that granted states flexibility in spending federal dollars on foster care; and the Family First Prevention Services Act, a major, permanent reform signed by President Trump in 2018, which makes more funding available for services designed to keep families together.
The federal waiver program started in the mid-1990s, and dozens of states have used the extra leeway it offered to test new models for foster care services. New York City’s Strong Families waiver mostly paid for the hiring and training of more case planners to lower caseloads.
The city, along with several other systems taking advantage of the waiver, pressed Congress hard for help after the program expired in October of 2019.
“The whole New York City team did a fantastic job of first putting this on our radar screen, and it’s something I wanted to embrace immediately,” said U.S. Rep Thomas Suozzi (D), appearing with Hansell at a press conference in lower Manhattan. Suozzi’s Long Island district includes part of New York City, and he was a co-sponsor on the Family First Transition Act.
“I want to accomplish two things: Make people’s lives better, and make government more effective and efficient in the process,” he said. “This is a great example of doing that.“
Though several states intend to implement the Family First Act this year, New York and about three dozen other states have elected to delay implementation until 2021.
“We’re two years away from this, we had to start working on it now,” Suozzi said. “As for what’s going to happen two years from now, I don’t have the answer to that yet, but I’m certainly going to be continuing to monitor this and work on this.”
Asked if and how the federal government should regulate local efforts to spend the funds, Suozzi suggested a more hands-off approach:
“I think it’s up to the jurisdictions. I’m a big believer in not putting more mandates on what local governments can do, that’s why these waiver programs are so important. As long you achieve these outcomes be creative and try to figure out ways to do it.”