Recent News: Testimony to the Assembly on investment in families and communities

Oct 18, 2022: The State Assembly Committee on Children and Families held a hearing on “the state of primary prevention in NY,”  including discussion of whether expanded family supports should be funded through NY’s child welfare system.

Nora testified:

“We appreciate and applaud this committee hearing. First, I want to reframe, however, that this testimony is about family and community investment. The term “primary prevention” connotes that abuse and neglect are imminent and that prevention must be a “system” designed around a sense of threat. Family and community investment is a frame that makes more sense. Because we’re talking about communities that have been intentionally disinvested in and about repairing that harm.

“I also want to begin by saying that we’ve heard from OCFS and ACS about their ideas and programs. But resources and investments in families and communities should not come through the child welfare system. This system has been the agent of generations of traumatic loss and terror for Black and brown families. In protests, reports, testimony, media – in every possible way to make themselves heard – parents impacted by the child welfare system have rejected the notion that this same system – a system with the power to separate families —should now be positioned as their locus of support.”

So what should investment look like?

Sept. 13, 2022: NYC Family Policy Project joined with the Safety Net Project at Urban Justice Center, Rise and Center for Family Representation to testify in opposition to a City Council bill that could increase the shelter-to-ACS pipeline.

  • Read City Limits coverage:

The bill would require the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to provide on-site “mental health services” in each DHS families-with-children shelter. A week after the bill was introduced, the Daily News ran a piece that added context from the bill’s leading advocate:

“The head of Win… said that because there’s currently no requirement on the books to provide mental health workers at family shelters, mothers are forced to seek help outside of shelters after getting a referral from a social worker or case manager. That’s a problem for several reasons, she said, and pointed to long waits, an inability to assess family dynamics off-site and the fact that families often don’t take advantage of services offered away [emphasis added] from where they’re being housed.”

It’s striking that these proposed mental health professionals would be used to “assess family dynamics” on-site. For families in shelter, this would require the presence of mental health professionals in their homes. This bill also pushes the idea that a leading reason for families entering shelter is mental illness, even though leading events triggering shelter entry include eviction, domestic violence, unsafe housing conditions and overcrowding. To be clear, three out of four reasons relate to poverty conditions.

On its face, this legislation may seem compassionate, and as such has attracted significant Council support. However, unintended consequences likely to result from this bill include violation of privacy, coercion effects, expansion of the shelter-to-ACS pipeline, service fragmentation, and increased pathologization of homelessness.

Instead, we recommend that DHS institute a trauma-informed practice curriculum across the agency and strengthen service linkages, and that the City better invest in community mental health providers to reduce waiting lists for families, including those in shelter, who seek care.

FPP will continue posting brief news items here