Growing Up NYC: Blueprint for an Equitable City

New York City is home to 3 million children and youth, a diverse group that includes some of the country’s wealthiest and poorest children.  To better meet the needs of these young New Yorkers, the city recently launched its first policy framework, Growing Up NYC, which comprehensively addresses children’s development from birth to adulthood. The policy comes on the heels of the NYC Children’s Cabinet creation two years ago to improve collaboration across 24 city agencies.

Equity for Children joined with the Center for NYC Affairs in hosting the launch of the policy framework at The New School on November 22, 2016.  For Equity for Children, the new policy is an exciting development, providing an example of how mayors can put children at the center of urban agendas – and proactively reduce inequities.  For a city in which one in three children lives in poverty and there are profound racial gaps, this is no small task.

A first priority for NYC is breaking down the silos between city agencies.  As Deputy Mayor Richard Buery noted, “Government is organized vertically but people’s lives are horizontal.”  The Children’s Cabinet works at the highest levels, bringing together the heads of child focused departments such as Education and Human Services, but also those in which children are just one among a number of stakeholders, such as the Police and Parks. The policy framework is an essential blueprint for the Cabinet’s work, providing a unified vision of child well-being and goals across city government.

The next step, improving coordination at the street-level, may prove to be a tougher challenge.  Many families remain unaware of services available to them, or face bureaucratic hurdles to access. For parents with limited time and resources, simple administrative procedures can become mountains. For Benita Miller, Executive Director of the Children’s Cabinet, NYC has to find ways to share families’ data without compromising confidentiality, and reshape ground rules and standard operating procedures of disparate city agencies to create one-stop shops.

Another challenge is sustainpanel-2-growing-up-nycing support and resources for a child focused urban agenda. Popular political support comes more readily to universal programs that provide high-quality services to all children; NYC has done this with the universal pre-Kindergarten program. At the same time, to effectively tackle inequities, cities need to target children who are falling behind. NYC’s new plan relies on data, disaggregated down to the neighborhood level, to target and reach children at risk. The policy includes 26 indicators to track progress on children’s well-being; providing both a tool to city agencies to reduce inequities, but also a report card for the city’s efforts at large.

More than numbers, Growing Up NYC, also aims to include the voices of children and families, to make sure their lived experience are heard on high. Discussion groups were held with youth, parents and caregivers across the city to inform the development of the framework. Baby showers hosted by NYC First Lady, Chirlane McKray, provide a chance to meet with new mothers from some of the hardest to reach communities, and hear directly how city’s efforts are affecting their lives.  And the city’s rich network of non-profit and community organizations also contribute to the ongoing dialogue.

For many of the youth consulted by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which took part in the policy launch, a common request, is safe public space, indoors and out. This reflects the challenge of providing children not only with equitable access to the city’s social services, but equal access to the wider city. Safe and accessible parks are a start, but safe streets and child-friendly transit are equally important. Providing equal access to all of the diversity and opportunities that the city provides may be the ultimate measure of children’s well-being, for New York City and beyond.
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