Citing Her Own Family Story, Kathryn Garcia Calls For Changes To Foster System

At a press conference outside of Brooklyn’s Family Court building Monday afternoon, mayoral hopeful Kathryn Garcia recalled her family’s experience with adoption, pledging to reform the foster care system if elected as New York City’s next mayor. Garcia was adopted as a baby by a Park Slope couple–a labor negotiator and a teacher—who had two biological children and adopted Garcia along with two other children, both of whom are Black. At the event, Garcia recalled her older sister Elizabeth’s experience, who was brought into the family as a 7-year-old.

“She spent seven challenging years in the foster system. She had been scheduled to be placed in a group home,” Garcia said. “When I think about my adoption and my family, one thing is clear. Everybody needs a forever family to support them. Family is forever and we need more families like mine.”

If elected, Garcia said she would raise the age at which youth age out of the foster care system from 21 to 25-years-old. Advocates have long called for raising the age that the city provides support to youth in foster care, who are more likely to experience homelessness or criminal justice involvement. About 600 foster youth aged out of the system in 2019, the most recent data available.

She said she would encourage more adoptions of older foster children by adding funding for groups that provide support to families of older adoptees.

Adoptions of children in foster care have declined in recent years, dropping from 748 down to 404 in the last fiscal year, according to city data. Many court proceedings were stalled during COVID, and there was a subsequent drop in family reunifications as well, from 2,309 children in fiscal year 2019 to 1,834 last fiscal year. There was a similar decline in the number of new children placed into foster care of about 18 percent, down to 3,105 last year.

Of around 8,000 children in foster care across the city, 53% are Black, though just 24% of the city’s residents are Black. Garcia said she supported a “blind” removal process where caseworkers determine whether a child should be removed without knowing the race of the family, which the city said it implemented after a 2020 state directive. In Nassau County, Black children were taken away from their families at lower rates after the system was put in place.

But advocates for foster care youth and families whose children have been removed by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services say there are other ways the system discriminates against Black and brown families, like asking a family what their income is, how large their apartment is, or even knowing what neighborhood they live in. Joyce McMillan, an advocate for foster youth and families who have been separated from their children called Garcia’s plan “window dressing,” and said it wouldn’t lead to substantive reforms. McMillan is pushing for fewer removals of children from their families altogether.

“The majority of cases are children being removed for reasons related to neglect,” she said, citing the number of new cases initiated by ACS. She said the current system penalizes families in poverty, rather than helping families provide for their children. WNYC previously reported on family separations that took place because a mother had tested positive for marijuana. Officials should be focused on flooding resources into communities to mitigate poverty that ultimately leads to a child’s removal, she said.

“This system needs to be abolished,” McMillan added. “Everything harmful about this system needs to be rebuilt.”