Preventive Services Save Children — and Money

August 5, 2020 | New York

Recent protests have made our collective commitment to racial justice more urgent, and child welfare is not immune from this public conversation. State budget cuts to essential community-based preventive services threaten to weaken already vulnerable Black and Latinx communities, which have been hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis and continue to suffer from the discrimination that the protests have laid bare.

New York became a national leader in 2002, when it began investing in community-based child welfare services that help children stay at home with their parents. Because most Child Protective Services calls are allegations of neglect, not abuse, these kinds of supports can address the root cause for concern and have helped reduce the number of children in foster care by half.

Despite the effectiveness of preventive services, they are often an easy target for budget cuts. In 2008, the state reduced its share for these kinds of services from 65% to 62%, despite being codified in state law. Now New York is considering double-digit cuts across the child welfare system. The effects would be staggering, undermining services that support the safety and well-being of children at a time of extreme community vulnerability. Across New York, Black and Latinx people accounted for 32% of COVID deaths, while only making up 21% of our population. Reducing child welfare preventive services would cause further disproportionate harm to children of color, as almost two-thirds of children living in foster care are Black or Latinx.

The governor and Legislature will have challenging decisions to make given the anticipated loss in state revenue due to COVID-19. But divesting from preventive services increases risks for deeper system involvement, including foster care, which will cost the state far more. Prevention and intervention programs in child welfare can save anywhere from $2 to over $20 per $1 invested, demonstrating that maintaining funding for these services is financially sound as well as morally imperative. That is why we and child welfare advocates across the state are calling on the governor and our legislators to stand up for children and families by protecting preventive services now.