Aysha Schomburg, Associate Commissioner for the Children’s Bureau, helped to open CWLA’s successful 2021 virtual conference on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. In her opening remarks to CWLA attendees, she discussed her experiences over the past year during the pandemic and some of the lessons learned. At the time, Commissioner Schomburg was working at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).
The Commissioner focused on three key points that stood out, social services never closed throughout the crisis, that families needed critical services and that we can, in fact, support families, especially in a pandemic and crisis.
Commissioner Schomburg then recounted her experiences at the start of 2020. The City of New York, similar to many other jurisdictions, lacked a remote working policy and what that meant for both the City and the workforce. Within ACS, they had to be prepared to react quickly to maintain their work and responsibilities. One of the immediate challenges was how they could continue to serve families while also keeping workers safe. Similar to jurisdictions throughout the country, with schools closed, they wrestled with how best to make sure children and families continue to be supported without creating unnecessary monitoring of families that had only virtual contact with their schools.
ACS had to reinvent practices and rethink policy. That included the need for in-person requirements and how to apply them appropriately and safely. Contacts with families were limited to most necessary while at the same time making sure workers were safe with the necessary protective equipment and precautions.
In other instances, policy adaptation included such examples as extended foster care for youth beyond age 21 while also allowing other youth to re-enter care. Additional challenges included training and retraining, which now had to be adapted in a virtual world and extended to workers and other entities, including court personnel and other parts of the child welfare workforce.
Schomburg joined the Biden Administration in March 2021 after serving as the Senior Administrator for Program Oversight for New York City’s ACS. There she worked collaboratively with agency leaders to develop and implement plans for the operational infrastructure of ACS while also developing and coordinating comprehensive organizational capacity-building strategies across programs. During the pandemic, she worked closely with New York City’s Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services to create and coordinate guidance for frontline staff. She also worked with the New York City mayor’s office to coordinate a platform for listening to nonprofits and social services agencies regarding COVID-19 challenges and proposed solutions.
After opening remarks, Commissioner Schomburg took a series of questions from the virtual audience and talked about her vision for the coming months as the head of the Children’s Bureau. She emphasized racial equity and equity for all populations, including LGBTQ populations. She is setting up an Advisory Board within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to help collaborate on issues of racial equity across funding streams and programs. Other comments included the need to improve on equity through the use of kinship care, and she said they were looking at the time frames that exist through the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and how they functioned in a pandemic, especially in instances where services were limited or nor available. In that regard, she has met with groups of fathers. Schomburg indicated that there would be revisions to the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) but did not have details to share. Other initiatives include reaching out to both the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Medicaid on how there can be better coordination with child welfare agencies and services.