New York residential amenities ought to solely be used like emergency rooms for kids
DNF Style / Shutterstock
With the implementation of the Family First Act, there is an increase in editorials and articles, many of which articulate the nervousness of providers in residential areas. As their revenue models come under attack, some institutions fight back in the press and in the halls of state houses to defend models of child support that can be frightening, backward, and protectionist against ineffective practices.
While short-term dormitory accommodation is a necessary part of the continuum of foster care for some needy children, it is never an effective long-term solution. Foster children need the same things that our own children need: someone who is willing and able to give them unconditional belonging.
The research is clear: children do best when placed in well-supported foster and relatives. If we provide these families with the financial and therapeutic support they need to care for children with complex needs, they will be more effective in the long run.
In a few cases, children may need limited time in an emergency room to stabilize and protect them and others, while their families or foster families receive support to create the care environment they need. But for too long, too many have argued that children who display pain-based behavior need to be institutionalized and segregated from communities and families, and they are just wrong.
The state in which we work – New York – needs political and systemic improvements, but of a very different nature than other states. The challenge we are facing is that, in some areas of New York, children are placed in care facilities twice as often as the national average in care homes, which is costly for children, families and taxpayers.
We believe the cause of the problem is that these areas of New York and their care providers were complacent. They had considerable living capacity. Instead of developing and investing in the foster and kin families who need children so badly, they have put children in these institutional beds by default. Despite the best of intentions, home care has become a convenient destination rather than an effective emergency room for children.
Fortunately, in New York, those in charge of public and private child welfare have begun the hard work to flip our child welfare system to prioritize family preservation, engagement and family-based care. This transformation is accelerated by the Federal Law on Family Prevention Services of 2018, which limits the reimbursement of housing allowances and provides incentives to maintain the family and care for relatives.
In 2019, the state launched a transition fund to help counties transform into a more family-oriented one, and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in his 2020 state speech that New York would implement a kin-first firewall policy to keep children safe Protect in foster families are placed with relatives and family friends. We applaud our public leaders for their proactive stance and our private leaders for their willingness to change.
We will always need residential facilities: safe places with strong clinical skills and the deeply caring staff who do very difficult work with our most vulnerable children. However, these residence providers need to evolve from a destination where children are held for years to an emergency room where treatment is defined and effective, and where a commitment to finding and supporting the family is a top priority.
Because relationships heal, institutions don’t.
Jeremy C. Kohomban, Ph.D., is President and CEO of The Children’s Village and national co-chair of the Children Need Amazing Parents (CHAMPS) campaign.
Sarah Kroon Chiles is the managing director of the Redlich Horwitz Foundation.