What to Know
NY's Office of Children and Family Services and other state departments are demanding information on migrant children from foster agencies
The missive comes hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed frustration over his inability to get the information from federal authorities
Sources at foster agencies say it's 'politics,' wondering why the state wants to intervene in a protected federal arrangement
New York state is demanding, on a deadline of 10 a.m. Friday, all federally-contracted foster agencies to send detailed information on each of the immigrant children in their care, after Gov. Cuomo expressed frustration over his inability to wrangle that information from the federal government, News 4 New York has learned.
New York's Office of Children and Family Services was among several state departments that sent a letter to foster agencies asking for extensive information on the migrant children in their care and on their contracts with the federal government.
"You should consider this the request the equivalent of a subpoena for such records under our authority," Acting Commissioner Sheila Poole wrote in the letter dated June 21, adding that failure to respond by Friday morning could result in the state's "suspension, revocation or limitation of your residential program's operating certificate; the withdrawal of approval of your program's authority to board out children; and/or the referral of the matter for criminal prosecution."
It's not clear whether the state's request is enforceable, given that the agencies are bound by federal contract, and given that immigration is a federal issue.
A source at one foster agency that received the letter told News 4 that it was unfair and an added burden. The source called the letter "all politics."
The strongly worded letter was sent hours after Cuomo -- whose office oversees OCFS -- announced frustration over his inability to get information from federal authorities on the estimated 700 immigrant children who have been sent to foster care agencies in New York.
The Democrat told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that he sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting information on the children being housed in New York so the state can provide appropriate services, including counseling and mental health evaluations.
"It's my constitutional responsibility to take care of the health and well-being of the kids in my state," Cuomo said. "I believe legally, they must tell me where they are. They're not political pawns that you can hide."
New York is receiving so many displaced children because the state has one of the largest foster-care networks in the nation, Cuomo said. He described the federal Health and Human Services as being in a "mad scramble" to find housing for the immigrant children while refusing to provide state officials with any information.
"The state has a right to know what's going on in those foster care agencies," Cuomo said.
Foster program directors have been wary of allowing politicians into their facilities for fear of outsider grandstanding amid children's personal crises.
Cuomo said he hadn't received any response from HHS by Thursday afternoon. Now the state is turning to the agencies directly to release the information, even while recognizing they're bound by federal contract to maintain discretion.
Among the information OCFS is asking of the agencies: copies of contracts with the federal government to provide care to immigrant children; summaries of any verbal or informal agreements with federal entities to provide care; summaries of verbal requests from the federal government on securing beds or service for immigrant children.
As for the children themselves, the OCFS is asking each agency for (as excerpted from the letter):
- The name and age of each Immigrant Child;
- All assessment available regarding the Child's health, safety and general welfare;
- The name and ages of the parents of each Immigrant Child;
- The date such child was separated from his or her parent;
- The place that the Immigrant Child was separated from his or her parent;
- The names and last known location for any siblings of the Immigrant Chilld;
- The origin country of the Immgirant Child;
- The primary language spoken by the Immigrant Child;
- The reasons known to your agency that Immigrant Child and his or her family attempted to cross into our country;
- The length of time you have been caring or serving such Immigrant Child
Cuomo said in the teleconference that it's his legal responsibility as governor of New York to ensure the children within the state's borders receive proper care, whether or not they're U.S. citizens.
But the foster agencies that are caring for these children say those services are already being provided in their facilities.
The Cayuga Center in Harlem says it places children in bilingual, culturally matched foster homes; provides them with medical and mental health care, daily education and recreation; and helps them to be unified with family members. Mayor de Blasio toured the center Wednesday and said "it looked like the kids were being treated very well."
Jeremy Kohombban, head of the Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester, told News 4 Wednesday that "we are good at what we do, and we work well with the federal government... I'd rather these children be with me than anywhere else."