“We must reject efforts to roll back Raise the Age and stop scapegoating children and youth for the decades-long failure of government to invest equitably in them and their communities in the first place.”

Adi Talwar

Basketball courts at Crossroads Juvenile Center, in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Recent reports of gun violence in our state are of serious concern. New York needs solutions that actually address the root causes of public safety challenges—not another attempt at a quick fix solution by bringing back failed policies of the past.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s last-minute proposals to include rollbacks to New York’s Raise the Age legislation in state budget negotiations will do nothing to make New York safer. In fact, rolling back Raise the Age would not only undo vital criminal justice reform, but would deflect attention and action away from the need to invest in an equitable recovery essential to community safety.

The pandemic pulled the rug out from under communities and disproportionately harmed children and families of color, who even before the pandemic faced higher rates of poverty, poor health outcomes, inequitable education, and youth disconnection as well as greater risks of homelessness and a lack of basic community resources.

Over the past two years, these communities have experienced disproportionate rates of illness and loss of life; income and employment loss; increased housing insecurity and hunger; disruption in developmental supports and access to primary health care, child care, youth supports, and school; social isolation made worse by a digital divide; and skyrocketing behavioral health care needs. Only after months of COVID-19 infections, deaths, and lockdowns did gun violence increase in New York.

We must reject efforts to roll back Raise the Age and stop scapegoating children and youth for the decades-long failure of government to invest equitably in them and their communities in the first place.

Earlier this month, the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York released a report that outlined inequities in early childhood development experienced by families across New York City. Think about this: According to the report, 90 percent of children of color in New York City live in communities where barriers to young child development and school readiness are prevalent. The report revealed that thousands of families are struggling to raise their children without access to essential developmental supports.

Sadly, unmet needs persist as children grow up. Last month, a citywide survey of New York City youth identified behavioral health, food, housing, academic, and employment supports as the most urgent needs of New York’s young people. These recent reports, in addition to CCC’s ongoing analysis of pandemic impacts, reveal unacceptable disparities in our state.

Thankfully, state lawmakers have advanced spending plans that build on the Executive Budget’s proposals in ways that could have a transformative impact on people’s lives, community safety, and youth and family mobility. The plans propose deepening the New York City and State earned income tax credit, expanding the Empire State Child Credit, creating a statewide housing subsidy, and carving a path toward universal child care. They also provide additional support for Universal Pre-Kindergarten, increase access to health care, improve behavioral health supports in schools and communities, make robust investments in child welfare and juvenile justice prevention, and more. If enacted, these proposals would ensure that New York’s children, families, and communities have the resources they need to not only recover but thrive.

Sadly, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attempt to roll back Raise the Age would not make our communities safer. Instead, it would cause deep harm to people and communities of color hurt most by the pandemic.

We cannot let this 11th-hour proposal derail a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a safer and more equitable New York. We cannot turn our backs on our most vulnerable communities now. We must leverage New York’s state budget to invest in the essential building blocks for recovery and community safety and firmly reject efforts to roll back Raise the Age.

Jennifer March is the executive director of Citizens’ Committee For Children. (Editor’s note: CCC is a City Limits funder.)