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Remember Me!

What in the world would we do if God decided that the path for our entire lives would be determined solely by the stupid, wrong, hurtful and immature things we did before we were 16 years old?

Think about all the things you did – and you didn’t get caught! Well, you think you didn’t!

The psalmist says, “Don’t remember the sins and transgressions of my youth — remember me…”

God knows us. And, God knows that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.

The Psalmist says, “Don’t just remember what I’ve done, remember me!!”

Take some time to see the young people in your life for who they are – young people, children….youths. Enough already about how foolish they can be. In fact, I have it on good authority that you (whoever you are now) were once foolish, too.

Here are some concepts you should make it your business to learn more about:

1. Restorative Justice
2. Peace Circles
3. Positive Behavior supports

There is a whole lot we can do to steer young people toward good. And the truth is – we all have to be intentionally “steered” toward good. We are all human, wrong, broken, sinful, stubborn and in need of mercy and grace. And yet, God sees beyond all of that and remembers who we are – God’s children.

We will never outgrow the need for God’s protection — and so it’s a good thing that God still reaches out the hand of mercy and forgiveness and provides us a place of “refuge.”


Psalm 25

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13 They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.

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Children in the New York State 2011 – 2012 Budget: An Unfair Burden

Here is the letter that went to all New York State legislators from the Children’s Defense Fund – New York.  I’m including it here in its entirety on my personal blog because I think that how we spend our money is a moral issue.  Budgets are moral testimonies.  They are practical demonstrations of what we value, what we hold dear.  Unfortunately, New York’s 2011 – 2012 budget targets children, poor people and vulnerable families to bear enormous burdens, while at the same time, exempting the wealthiest of New Yorkers from the burden to “share the pain.”
So, I thought it important to share this letter and I hope that those who read it and the budget analysis that follows will call their elected officials.  It’s not too late.

February 22, 2011
The Governor of the State of New York
The New York State Senate
The New York State Assembly
The Children’s Defense Fund – New York (CDF-NY) is extremely concerned about the impact the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal will have on the children of New York and the future of our state.  While encouraged by efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, we are troubled by the level of reductions to preventive services, youth programs and education that will hurt the most vulnerable children and families.
We know that difficult decisions must be made to put New York on the path to economic recovery.  Bold actions are needed to ensure that the budget is balanced and that New Yorkers continue to have the opportunities that make our state strong. 
CDF-NY is working to promote critical systems change in the areas of juvenile justice, early childhood, children’s health and education.  To dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline that is funneling thousands of New York’s youth into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, we must ensure that every child has the appropriate and necessary support starting at birth. Our budget and legislative priorities reflect the principle of investing in programs that are effective and provide children and youth with the support they will need to be successful.  
Investments in early childhood, youth services and education not only lead to financial savings in the future, but these investments also produce more positive outcomes for all of us.  We cannot afford to make decisions that may reduce the budget in the short-term but create the need for more costly interventions in the future. 
Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed budget includes significant cuts to programs that we know support families, prepare children to learn and succeed in school, and keep young people out of trouble. The proposed cuts to the home visiting, child care, after-school and summer employment programs are short-sighted actions that will prove to be more costly in succeeding budgets than the immediate savings achieved by these cuts for this budget year.  The budget proposal sends a dangerous message that New York will not invest in a child’s early development, keep them safe or prepare them for a successful future; New York would rather respond after a young person gets in trouble or falls behind in school. Even then, the response cannot be expected to meet the need. 
CDF-NY urges you to ensure that the final budget proposal is fair and does not eliminate programs that are proven to create more positive outcomes for our children.  A more detailed budget statement is attached.  Specifically we hope you will work to:
  • restore funding for home visiting and keep the program out of any block granted structure;
  • support the closure of youth prisons, the elimination of the 12-month notification requirement and support the investment in community-based alternative-to-detention and alternative-to-placement programs;
  • restore funding for subsidized child care programs to the current level;
  • reject the proposed reduction in school aid, that coupled with the loss of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, would seriously hamper school districts’ ability to serve children equitably and adequately.restore state funding for after-school programs and the summer youth employment programs;
  • oppose the creation of the Primary Preventive Investment Fund and restore full funding for the critical youth preventive programs; and
  • identify revenue options that will not hurt hard-working low- and middle-income New Yorkers. 
CDF-NY recognizes that states across the country are faced with incredible financial challenges.  Some have opted to allow this challenge to be borne on the backs of children, poor people and vulnerable families.  While everyone has a contribution to make to our becoming “whole,” not all cuts can be equal.  Some cuts leave no room for recovery and eat away at tomorrow’s promise. New York has an opportunity to show the way forward for our entire country.  Strong, inspired, principled leadership makes the difference for all of us in tough times because the temptation for too many will be to prioritize easy cuts for today’s bottom line over what New York’s children and families need now to ensure a bright tomorrow for all of us. 
Now is the time to end the legacy of investing in waste and inefficiency.  Now is time to transform those savings into resources that will make the difference in neglected communities. As you make the difficult decisions that must be made, I urge you to lead by protecting New York’s future – prioritize the needs of New York’s children and families.
Emma Jordan-Simpson
Executive Director
Children’s Defense Fund – New York Budget Priorities                  
2011-2012 Executive Budget
February 2011
The Executive Budget proposal for SFY 2011-2012 closes a $10 billion budget gap primarily through reductions in spending and shifts in state support to financially strapped counties and cities.  The $132.9 billion budget proposes an across-the-board reduction of 10 percent on all agencies and reduces state aid to localities by more than $3 billion, primarily through reductions in School Aid and Medicaid.  While encouraged by efforts to reform the juvenile justice system and some efforts to improve our education system, we are greatly concerned about the level of reductions to preventive services, youth programs and education, as well as the significant cost-shift to localities. 
Juvenile Justice
·         The budget proposes to eliminate the 12-month notification rule and close 376 beds.
  • The Governor has proposed a $13.5 million investment to improve services in OCFS (Office of Children and Family Services) facilities in the first year, and $24 million in the second.
·         The budget includes a cap on detention funding to localities.  Under this proposal, counties would only be reimbursed for youth deemed high risk by an OCFS validated Risk Assessment Instrument.  Counties would still be able to detain low and mid-risk youth but would have to cover the full costs themselves.
·         The Governor has proposed the creation of a Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program (STSJP) that will provide $31.4 million in 2011-12 growing to $48.3 million in 2012-13 for community-based alternatives to detention and placement.  (The budget also proposes to eliminate the existing $8.2 million for alternative programs, which will be consolidated into the new program.) A 62 percent funding stream is created for the STSJP. 
CDF-NY applauds Governor Cuomo’s commitment to closing under-utilized youth prisons and investing in community-based alternative-to-placement programs.  Currently, the law requires the state to provide 12-months notification prior to closing a youth prison.  This requirement prevents the state from achieving the savings that result from the significant decline in the number of youth placed with OCFS.  While this law has never made sense, it has now led to the cost of each state placement to be more than $300,000 per bed as we continue to pay staff to work in empty facilities.  Not only does this waste taxpayer dollars on an abusive and ineffective system, it prevents the state from making the necessary changes that would create better outcomes for youth and improve public safety by significantly reducing recidivism rates. 
We have strongly advocated for alternative programs because they are consistently successful at reducing recidivism, supporting youth and improving communities with a much smaller price tag.  Instead of spending more than $300,000 per bed in the state youth prisons and seeing more than 80 percent of the youth re-offend within three years, we should be investing in the more effective community-based programs, which cost between $5,000 and $17,000 per year and deliver significantly lower recidivism rates.  As the Governor said in his State of the State address: “Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs.  That’s not what this state is all about and that has to end this session.”  We are hopeful that the legislature will support the Governor’s proposal and finally end the days of keeping empty facilities open and failing to provide youth with the services they need. 
The Governor has also proposed capping the funding for local detention in order to pay for these new alternative programs.  While, in principle, CDF-NY supports stopping local over-reliance on pre-trial detention (and the concurrent over spending), we urge you to ensure that the final budget does not punish struggling counties and lead them to make reductions in critical preventive services in order to pay for detention costs because funding for local detention has been capped.  A phased-in or staggered approach to the detention cap will allow counties the time to develop new programs that can safely keep youth out of detention.
Child Welfare and Youth Services
·         The Governor has proposed a change to the state reimbursement rate for the Adoption Subsidy program, decreasing the state share from 73 percent to 62 percent. 
·         The Governor proposes a reduction and cost-shift in Title XX funding. 
·         The budget proposes the creation of a new Primary Preventive Investment Fund (PPIF) at $35 million this year growing to $42 million next year.  This will be a competitive process for districts and is created by eliminating funding for home visiting, delinquency preventive programs, runaway and homeless youth programs, community optional preventive services, and settlement houses.  The new fund will invest 50 percent of the current funding for these programs. 
·         The budget eliminates TANF funding for programs including:
§  Summer Youth Employment
§  Advantage After-School
§  Home Visiting
§  SUNY and CUNY child care
·         The Budget eliminates $3 million for the creation of a long-term safe house for sexually-exploited youth under the Safe Harbor Act. 
CDF-NY is very concerned about the extent of the cost-shift to localities and elimination of successful programs that help keep children safe and on the path to success.  Counties and cities are already struggling with massive budget deficits.   By significantly decreasing state support and reducing overall funding for preventive programs, the Governor is creating an environment that will lead to devastating cuts for programs that are designed to protect children and support youth on a path to success. 
While we recognize the need for the state to reduce spending, the cuts proposed by the Governor will only increase the state’s need to invest in more punitive and expensive interventions.  The adoption subsidy is a successful and vital support to families who would otherwise not be able to care for the child financially.  It helps provide children with permanent caring families, and reduces state and local spending on foster care and administration.  Passing the state share to the counties will leave counties with no choice but to cut other programs that are designed to protect and support children. 
CDF-NY strongly opposes the creation of the new Primary Preventive Investment Fund (PPIF).  This action, while labeled as a positive approach to prevent foster care and juvenile justice placements, will drastically reduce the availability of preventive programs and most likely increase the need for more costly and restrictive services.  The creation of this fund lumps together critical programs and provides less than half of the existing funding.  By creating a competitive environment with significantly less money, and requiring a local match, it is likely that counties will not even have the ability to support a fraction of the existing programs. 
Most troubling of the cuts made through the PPIF and reduction in TANF funding is the loss of funds for the home visiting program, one of the most effective interventions to prevent child abuse and neglect and improve school readiness.  These programs provide much-needed support and intervention for at-risk families prior to a child’s birth or soon thereafter.  A recent study found that families enrolled in these programs are 50 percent less likely to be reported for abuse or neglect in the future and that this program decreases the chances of low birth weights for the children of African American and Hispanic women.  Studies on The Parent-Child Home Program have found that participants had higher rates of passing the 1st grade skills assessment and higher rates of high school graduation.  Providing these services up front to vulnerable families saves the state money on future child protective investigations, possible foster care placement, remedial education services and health-related costs associated with low birth weight children, while also improving the child’s growth and development as a result of growing up in a healthier and more supported environment.  We strongly urge you to ensure that home visiting remains fully funded and out of any block granted program. 
Early Childhood
  • The budget holds funding for universal pre-kindergarten at the same level as the current year.
  • The budget reduces funding for subsidized child care by approximately $55 million, including a loss of federal ARRA funds and reduction in TANF funds. 
  • The budget does not include any funding for Quality Stars NY, the new performance rating system that New York has begun to test and implement. 
  • The Governor has proposed increasing the fee for reviews of the state central register from $5 to $60. 
CDF-NY is extremely concerned about the loss of funding for vital early childhood programs at a time when they are even more critical to the stability of families and children.  While we are glad to see the continued commitment to fund the universal pre-kindergarten program, the other reductions in early childhood programs are troubling.  The subsidized child care system around New York State has continued to shrink despite the growing need for the services.  Rising costs combined with decreasing federal, state and local support are leading to the dismantling of this critical support for working families.  Subsidized child care is one of the most important supports for working families.  Child care is unaffordable for most lower-income working families.  Without subsidies, parents will either be unable to work or leave their children in environments that are not safe, reliable or preparing them for school.  Every dollar invested in early childhood services saves taxpayers $4 to $7 in the long run, and stimulates the local economy immediately. Cutting this service at a time of economic crisis does not make sense.  We urge you to ensure that at least $55 million is added back to the Child Care Block Grant in the final budget. 
  • The Governor has proposed reducing School Aid to $19.39 billion by implementing a $2.8 billion Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).
  • The budget includes a delay of the full phase-in of Foundation Aid until 2016-2017.
  •  The Governor has proposed conducting a comprehensive review of school district mandates to identify and eliminate mandates that hamper school districts’ ability to provide services.
  •  The budget proposal will incorporate wealth as a factor when reimbursing districts’ summer school special education costs, for an anticipated cost-savings of $57 million in State Fiscal Year 2011-2012.
  •  The budget creates two $250 million competitive incentive programs to reward school districts that:
o   demonstrate significant improvements in student academic achievement and outcomes; and
o   make structural changes intended to create efficiencies. 
·         The budget proposal also includes another cost-shift from the state regarding special school placements.  The state is shifting its share of funding for residential schools to the local school districts – increasing the school district share from 20 percent to about 53 percent.
·         The budget maintains universal pre-kindergarten funding at its current level. 
The Governor has proposed many new cost-containing measures that would pass significant costs to local counties and cities.  CDF-NY is very concerned about this across-the-board approach to reducing education funding. Cumulatively, the property tax reduction, proposed GEA formula and the idea of delaying the phase-in of foundation aid would place already at-risk children throughout New York State in further risk of not receiving the support and services they need to succeed in school and in life. While we understand the need to rein in costs and applaud some of the initiatives proposed to create greater efficiency in our school systems, we are greatly concerned about the impact the proposed budget will have on already struggling school districts’ abilities to provide services and supports for their students in the near future.
Family Assistance
  • The Governor has proposed to implement full family sanctions upon the second violation of the public assistance requirements, saving $7 million in state funds.
  • The budget proposes to delay the 10 percent Public Assistance grant increase for one year, creating a $29 million state savings. 
The changes proposed by the Governor to the public assistance program are not worth the $36 million in savings that they will generate.  The new full family sanctions mean, in essence, that instead of just sanctioning the offender (the parent) they will now sanction the entire family (the children).  This proposed rule will end up punishing children who have no decision-making authority regarding compliance with the requirements.  It will also further destabilize struggling families. While CDF-NY encourages compliance, we recognize that the families receiving public assistance face many challenges and hardships.  Further destabilizing their economic stability will place many more children at risk of going hungry, living in unsafe conditions and experiencing negative influences.  In addition, the delay of the grant increase will continue to penalize the most vulnerable families in our state and leave families with 70 percent of the purchasing power the grant had in 1990.  This means less money being spent by these families in their local communities – hurting both the individual families and the local economy. 
  • The Governor has proposed letting a tax surcharge expire at the end of the calendar year for the top earners in the state.  The expiration of this surcharge on individuals earning over $200,000 and married couples earning over $300,000 will cost the state $1 billion in the 2011-2012 fiscal year and $4 – $5 billion the following year. 
 These surcharges were put in place to address the last fiscal challenge in New York three years ago.  At a time when we continue to face incredible budget deficits, devastating cuts to core services like education, and high unemployment rates, New York should not let this surcharge expire.  New York already has the most drastic income disparities in the country.  Since 1980, the richest 1 percent of New Yorkers has grown from representing 10 percent of all wealth to 35 percent of all wealth in the state.  Without this surcharge, New York will need to make even more crippling cuts in the next fiscal year. 

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If Joseph Dreams….

The Flight Into Egypt, Matthew 2:13
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him. Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod….” Matthew 2: 13,14, 15a
When there was a public, credible and sustained threat made against the life of the baby Jesus, an Angel of the Lord visited Joseph in a dream and gave him a plan to secure the child’s safety.  Obediently, and probably very grateful for the vision, Joseph arose and followed the inspired plan.  By doing so, Joseph made a world of difference for all of us — for history, for eternity, for generations to come. 
Today, there is a public, credible and sustained threat made against the very lives of poor children of color.
  • Though no children should be targeted, arrested and incarcerated the way we seem to be doing, Black children in New York city are 32 times more likely to be incarcerated than White children.
  • Children of color, primarily African-American and Latino youth, make up 95% of the young people entering the city’s detention facilities; children are routinely charged with nonviolent offenses, including misdemeanors and technical offenses.
  • Children who live in South Jamaica, East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem, Tremont, University Heights, Brownsville, Eastchester, Morris Heights, Saint George, East Harlem, Soundview, Bedford Park, the South Bronx and Far Rockaway — live most profoundly under the perverse rule of the spirit of Herod.   These communities have the highest rates of detention, the highest levels of poverty, poor housing and under-performing schools — and they desperately need Joseph to step forward with a dream and a plan.

 Joseph went to great lengths to protect Jesus and Mary.  When it became clear to him what Herod planned, Joseph did what he had to do to secure a refuge for his family against sure death.  He was not put off by the questions surrounding Jesus’ paternity, despite the community gossip.  Jesus was the child he claimed, and so he dreamed and acted.

There is a great deal of “good reform” happening in New York’s juvenile justice system.  I’m glad about it. But, I’m not satisfied.  System reform is necessary but certainly not enough because our children are endangered not just by broken child-serving systems (education, child welfare, access to health care, community and faith institutions) that routinely eat them alive and then dump them into the juvenile justice system. The world is broken and fallen — and a broken and fallen world chews up vulnerable people because it has no investment in a future worth considering. 

The fate of children in a broken world seems sealed by the loss of “The Joseph” who dreams, acts and protects.

Where is Joseph?

  • Some Josephs have fled the community without child and mother.
  • Some Josephs are physically present, but overwhelmed, lonely, disconnected, under-employed, unemployed…and gratefully sleep a dreamless sleep or battle with nightmares.
  • Some Josephs themselves are battered by oppression and caught up in the revolving doors of penal institutions, mental health centers, substance abuse clinics and homeless shelters.
  • Still other Josephs are absorbed in self and caught up in the power of immediate gratification fed by a media machine the likes of which we have never seen before.

Yet, in spite of this — and because of the grace of God,  there are still some incredible Josephs among us — men who stand tall in the community for their own children, and who stand for other children, who like Joseph’s Jesus, are not the children of their loins.  It seems as if the winds of the world are always against them. They struggle to make their voices heard above the din of rhetoric, but even more so, they struggle to hold on to dreams in a world which still does not value a Black man’s dream.

You won’t find their stories or witnesses reported by the media, but they are there.
You won’t find them receiving big awards from community groups, but children are surviving who otherwise would not because of them.
You won’t find their names inscribed on buildings, but everyday they struggle against the Devil himself so that children can find safe passage from home to school and back again.

My prayer is that these Josephs will be supported, encouraged to dream, empowered to act on their dreams and that they will be strengthened to put their plans into action.  My prayer is that God will raise a new generation of Community Josephs — men who will fearlessly claim and protect the children, the Jesus, in their neighborhoods.

We need Josephs who will not be swayed by community or media gossip about the worthiness of our own children. We need Josephs who will refute the spirit of Maury Povich with the declaration — “I may not be the father, but these are the children I claim and I will protect them.”
This world is not a friend to children, to poor people, to vulnerable people.  It does what it does — chews them up and spits them out.  But, the world has always done that and we should not be surprised.
Here’s what we also know:  Joseph makes a difference.

Joseph makes the difference.

He stands between Herod on the warpath and the child who will grow up to bless us.

Herod slaughtered a generation of little boys.  That’s what Herods do. We must work to seize the power of Herod. We must work to eliminate Herod’s power to systematically snuff out a generation of vulnerable children via broken, failing systems.

there is nothing more dangerous to the powers of the world if Joseph dreams…  

If Joseph dreams, there will be no stopping him!

“God, You are the giver of dreams.  You are the inspiration for freedom. 
We cannot be free if our Josephs, if our fathers, can’t dream. 
Where they are tired, give them sabbath rest.  
Where they are discouraged, speak into their hearts. 
Where they are lonely and disconnected, 
help them to find a community of Jesus Friends. 
Where they are battered by the storms of the world, 
give them shelter and the assurance that storms don’t last, You do. 
God, send Your Holy Spirit and lift up a new generation
of Community Josephs.