Children & Families
New York State is one of the wealthiest states in the nation. However, by the time I took office in 2021, New York children were more likely to live in poverty than in 32 other states, with 18% (nearly one in five) experiencing poverty in 2019. Due to structural and systemic racism, Black children have been more than twice as likely to live in poverty than their non-Hispanic white peers. And when it comes to child care, our workforce still struggles with poverty wages and necessary care is either inaccessible or unaffordable.
This is unacceptable. As the chair of the Children & Families Committee, I am dedicated to making New York a more just state for all of our residents.
During my first term, we accomplished a lot for New York’s children, families, and care providers. We fought hard to lower the maximum co-payments for child care down to 10% in the 2021 budget. Building on this success, we organized a campaign for Universal Child Care in 2022, and conducted a statewide tour to speak directly with New Yorkers who are impacted by our broken child-care system. Although we didn’t win Universal Child Care in the 2022 budget, we did win historic spending increases for child care and the passage of various elements of the Universal Child Care Act.
- We made it easier and faster for child-care providers who receive subsidy payments to receive direct deposit instead of waiting weeks for checks (S5162A).
- We made adoption services more accessible by mandating that the Office of Children and Family Services provide adoption-related materials in certain languages for those with limited English proficiency (S2585).
- We provided assistance to domestic violence survivors and kinship caregivers to seek financial assistance without the threat of retaliation (S2586A).
- We reformed the laws regarding child care availability to help low-income, homeless, and other families on public assistance who are working part time, have rotating schedules, or who are participating in educational and vocational activities benefit from child care (S6655A).
- We enabled a universal basic income pilot program for homeless and runaway youth (S5759B).
- We passed legislation to protect the rights of unmarried fathers to have a full and fair opportunity for a hearing before their parental rights are terminated (S6389).
- We passed legislation to allow for routine healthcare for homeless and runaway youth (S8937).
- We made technical corrections to the laws surrounding “juvenile delinquency” cases (S7171).
- We created a task force to identify evidence-based and evidence-informed solutions to reduce children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (S8320).
- We expanded the “child care availability task force” and extended its mandate to oversee the implementation of child-care policies in New York to set a “framework leading to a phased-in rollout of universal child care” (S7846).
But there’s still so much more to do. After decades of budget cuts and withholding funding, now is the time for New York State to invest in children and families. In the latest New York State budget, we secured $1.3 billion in funding for child care—an unprecedented investment, but woefully inadequate given the crisis we face. We have a long way to go, especially after Governor Hochul explicitly chose to exclude undocumented children from funding; the funding that we struggled so hard to secure this year still does not come close to providing underpaid child-care workers and over-burdened families with what they need. I pledge to keep fighting until we pass the Universal Child Care Act, so that all parents and care providers have access to the resources they need.
As State Senator, I will continue to fight to:
Pass the Universal Child Care Act
The child-care sector in New York State is struggling with deep fault lines and dramatic inequities. In September through December of 2021, along with members from Alliance for Quality Education and members of the Empire State Campaign for Child Care, I went on a statewide listening tour of New York to hear directly from child-care providers and parents. We issued a report of our findings after the tour, and also introduced comprehensive legislation known as the Universal Child Care Act.
It is clear that New York’s child-care infrastructure is in deep crisis. Many parents have no access to child care, and many child-care providers are forced to live in or near poverty. Decades of treating and funding child care as a private service rather than vital public infrastructure has left the system on the verge of collapse. Although some piecemeal approaches and temporary solutions have kept New York’s child-care system on life support, particularly with temporary stabilization funding from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic, many child-care centers have already been forced to close, and parents are struggling to access the child care they need. Today, where child care is still available, it is largely due to a dramatically underpaid workforce overwhelmingly made up of women—especially Black women and women of color—who are paid wages that leave the majority in or near poverty.
There is wide agreement that New York needs to pursue a “dramatically different approach to child care” and move instead towards a truly universal system where child care is free at the point of service and educators are paid sufficient wages, much like our public school system.
In order to truly build out a universal child-care system that goes beyond the current means-tested and market-based solutions, New York will need to make significant investments over time and build out its infrastructure to meet the needs of the 64% of New Yorkers who live in child-care deserts, where the demand for child care far exceeds local capacity.
In order to address the child-care crisis, we can do the following:
- Pass the Universal Child Care Act. This bill (S7595) would make substantial programmatic changes to New York’s child-care system and invest in building out New York’s child-care infrastructure to set the state on a clear path to building a universal system. It also ensures that Universal Pre-K and 3-K for all programs are implemented in a manner that does not leave behind providers who care for children under the age of three, who have been hit particularly hard by the present child-care crisis.
- Establish differential payment rates. This bill (S6077A) is one that I have passed through the Committee on Children & Families twice already (April 2021 and May 2022), but have not been able to get passed into law just yet. As we build up capacity towards a universal child-care system, it is important that we build capacity among providers who serve children experiencing homelessness or parents who need care during non-traditional hours. This legislation would create bonus payments to such providers as an incentive.
- End immigration status discrimination in child care. Even though child care is education, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to deny undocumented children a K-12 education, discrimination in the provision of child care continues to this day. This bill (S8962) will clarify that proof of immigration status is not required for the receipt of child-care subsidies.
Reform Child Protective Services and the Juvenile Justice System
With thousands of families and children in New York State interacting with Child Protective Services (CPS) and the juvenile justice system, it is essential that we make sure those systems are operating in a way that is transparent, just, and where all parties involved are informed of their rights. We must also ensure that we pursue non-punitive solutions that treat children like children, and ensure that workers in these industries are not overburdened with excessive caseloads. Among other things, we can do the following immediately:
- Reform our abusive system of anonymous and discriminatory reporting. New York State has an anonymous hotline that receives thousands of anonymous calls each year, triggering often invasive investigations of domestic abuse survivors and Black parents for alleged child abuse or neglect. Of these anonymous calls, an astonishing 96% are found to be unreliable and unsubstantiated. These anonymous calls lead to stressful, frightening, and invasive investigations of parents and children, and waste the time and resources of our child protective services professionals. Children and homes are searched, neighbors and school teachers questioned, and families must engage with investigators for what can be long periods of time. The state’s current anonymous reporting system is flawed and results in a massive waste of resources and creates long lasting stress and trauma for families.The harms of false, anonymous reporting fall disproportionately on low-income, Black and Brown New Yorkers as well as survivors of domestic and interpersonal violence. This legislation (S7326A) would change New York from a system of anonymous reporting to one of confidential reporting, so that appropriate cases are still reported but the system is not abused.
- Provide parents under investigation with a plain-language “parental bill of rights.” Every year, New York State receives over 160,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. As noted above, the vast majority of investigated child abuse hotline calls do not result in child protective agencies taking action. However, when a child protective services investigation has been triggered, a family under investigation can be taken by surprise, subjected to an intrusive search, and pressured to endure an invasion into the privacy of their home. However, parents have rights that they are typically not aware of during a child protective investigation. In particular, low-income families of color, who are disproportionately investigated and prosecuted for charges of child maltreatment, are often left uninformed about the process and unsure of their right to make decisions about their families. This legislation (S5484B) simply requires child protective investigators to inform parents and caretakers of certain rights and information at the beginning of a child protective investigation. Such rights include that unless court ordered, the parent is not required to permit the child protective investigator to enter their residence, the parent is entitled to be informed of the allegations against them, the parent is not required to speak to the child protective investigator, any statements made to the investigator may be used against the parent in an administrative or court proceeding, and the parent is not required to permit the investigator to interview the child or children. Although exceptions apply in emergencies, this legislation is necessary to ensure that families who interact with child protective services investigators are informed of their legal rights to ensure the justice of our child welfare system.
- Establish standards and caseload limits for our overburdened child protective services and foster care workers. It has been shown that smaller caseloads are important to the success of child protective services and foster care workers. New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services has already taken this approach and substantially lowered their caseload ratios to the benefit of the children. Similarly, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has argued that the maximum number of cases a foster care worker can adequately serve at a time is 16. This year, we can pass S6227 to ensure that New York State establishes and maintains standards for the caseloads of CPS workers, and S2587 to regulate and better manage the caseload of foster care caseworkers in New York State.
- Establish support for youth in the foster-care system. New York State has a responsibility to care for the youth who enter the foster-care system, as well as the youth who are required to transition out by law. Unfortunately, New York State has not done enough to ensure the safety and security of the population of youth in the foster-care system. According to a report from New York City’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence, approximately 37% of the young people who transition out of foster care in New York will either return to homeless services or be incarcerated within two years. California recently passed legislation to allow for a modest universal basic income program for youth transitioning out of foster care, and New York can do the same by passing S8160. Similarly, New York can pass S5419B to update its rent subsidies for foster children living independently, because the current subsidy levels reflect 1980s housing prices rather than the current reality.
- Stop financially supporting institutions that use electro-shock treatment on young people. Over the past decade, New York State has spent more than $100 million subsidizing an institution—the only one in the country—that electro-shocks young people as a form of behavior modification. Autism advocates have roundly condemned this practice, which representatives of the United Nations have likened to torture. This year, we can pass S8935 to finally end New York State’s financial support for this terrible and unnecessary practice.
- Expunging the records of young people. As New York State pursues important legislation like the Clean Slate Act to expunge criminal records and allow people to start over with a “clean slate,” we can’t ignore the fact that our juvenile justice system is equally in need of these kinds of measures. In addition to the Clean Slate Act, we need to pass legislation that similarly allows young people a fresh start with respect to “juvenile delinquency” (S9228) and “persons in need of supervision” (PINS) cases (S9391).
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