Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called last week for the de Blasio administration to use some of the funding earmarked for Thrive NYC, the mental-health program run in stumbling fashion by first lady Chirlane McCray, toward the $94 million needed to put a full-time Social Worker in the 716 public schools that don’t have one. Her proposal deserves to be part of any budget deal negotiated between the Mayor and the City Council.
Ms. Brewer, one of the city’s most-conscientious public officials, was pressing for more School Social Workers more than three months ago, prior to the exposes in both newspaper stories and a Council hearing of how little has been accomplished by Thrive NYC. It is an issue she has championed for most of this century, and is informed by the experience she has had as a foster parent for more than two dozen children.
The National Association for Social Workers recommends that schools employ one for every 250 students, and one for every 50 pupils in “vulnerable populations.” Yet, astonishingly, Mr. de Blasio’s preliminary budget called for cutting $13.9 million that would fund 69 Social Workers whose job was to help homeless students. The Daily News, which first reported Ms. Brewer’s demand, noted that there are 100 schools that serve at least 50 students who live in homeless shelters that lack a Social Worker focused strictly on their needs, according to Randi Levine, the policy director for Advocates for Children of New York. It is as if the Mayor is sneering at his own pledge to focus his second term on making New York “the fairest big city in America.”
Placed alongside Ms. McCray’s inability to account for how Thrive’s budget—which since 2015 has totaled $565 million, with that number expected to reach $1 billion over the next couple of years—was being spent under questioning at the Council hearing, it’s clear that a top priority should be funneling a reasonable portion of its funding toward adding School Social Workers.
When she was asked at that late-March hearing how much of the $251-million allocation for the fiscal year that concludes June 30 was devoted to helping those with serious mental illness, Ms. McCray couldn’t provide a concrete answer. A staffer later put the figure at $30 million.
Early this year, Susan Herman, a veteran government official who previously was a high-level NYPD executive, was brought in to serve as Thrive NYC’s Director and supply the administrative skills Ms. McCray lacked, notwithstanding her passion for the subject.
Other city officials have been sharply critical of Thrive’s performance over its four-year existence. City Comptroller Scott Stringer said it was difficult getting details on the program’s operations; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said of the lack of data it supplied regarding who was being helped, “I think we started spending the money before we had any discussions about how we would gauge this.”
The administration’s response to Ms. Brewer’s call for a significant shifting of funds was to state that the city had hired hundreds of Social Workers and Guidance Counselors over the past year. That clearly hasn’t brought in enough of them to address the problem.
As Ms. Levine told The News, “We get calls from families of students who need behavior and emotional support and are not receiving it in schools.”
While Thrive NYC struggles to offer an accounting of where its money is being spent, the administration and the Council have one obvious option for helping those with mental-health issues: transfer all or part of the money Ms. Brewer said was needed to get adequate social-work coverage in the public schools.
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