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For immediate release: October 19, 2020
Contact: press@ocfs.ny.gov
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THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES ANNOUNCES POLICIES TO PROMOTE RACIAL AND SOCIAL EQUITY AND JUSTICE IN CHILD WELFARE

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) today directed local departments of social services statewide to implement the Blind Removal Process when considering removing a child from their home and a Kin-First Firewall when placing a child who has been removed from their home. The proposals, first announced in the Governor’s 2020 State of the State address, are now state policy. They will improve child welfare practice at key decision-making points in the child welfare continuum – investigations and placements – as another step toward ensuring social justice and equitable treatment for all children and families in New York State.   

 
“Bias has no place in our child welfare system,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole, “and yet, despite the best efforts, intentions and desires of child welfare professionals to help all children and families, implicit bias can unconsciously seep into decisions of removal and reunification within the child welfare system. I commend Governor Cuomo for his commitment to equal treatment for all families who experience the child welfare system, regardless of race, ethnicity and economic standing.” 
 
The Blind Removal Process is an effective tool in reducing racial disparity and disproportionality in child welfare removals. All demographic information is hidden from decision makers to prevent implicit bias from unintentionally impacting a removal decision. The initiative will be statewide and have far-reaching positive outcomes beyond New York’s borders. 
 
The second policy, the Kin-first Firewall, is a “second look” at every child who is removed from their home to ensure that all steps have been taken to make the first foster placement a kinship placement that is safe, appropriate and in the child’s best interests. The policy requires a higher level of review to verify that all viable relatives and significant adults in a child’s life have been explored to achieve a kinship placement before a non-kinship placement is made.
 
Commissioner Poole stated, “Not only will our state be in the vanguard of a national strategy to reduce racial disparity, but both policies also align with the Family First Prevention Services Act for keeping children safely at home, and, when that isn’t possible, placing children with relatives.”
 
“Research demonstrates that kinship placements support the well-being of children in out-of-home care,” said Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner of OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services. “When children are removed from their homes, they face disruption in many aspects of their lives – their schools, friends and communities. Kinship care often mitigates such disruptions and the resulting trauma.”
 
OCFS will require the local departments of social services to implement the Blind Removal Process across the state and to establish a Kin-First Firewall practice, effective immediately.
 
Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has reduced the number of children living in foster care by 32 percent. New York State is the only state in the nation to provide open-ended reimbursement for preventive services to keep families stable and prevent entry into foster care. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation (Chapter 53 of the Laws of 2019) that established the Family First Transition Fund to support kinship and foster families and to help New York prepare for enactment of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.