The Children's Aid Blog

Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Four

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For Karina Collado, her job as a bilingual therapist at Mirabal Sisters Campus’ Health and Wellness Center is more than just providing counseling services for students—she advocates for her clients every day. She said that her job is to strengthen the individual, lift their self-esteem, and aid them in reaching their goals.

“I’m not here to make judgments,” said Karina. “I’m not here to tell them what to do. My job is to listen and help them make better decisions.”

On a weekly basis, Karina sees about 30 students, and provides them with the tools they need to thrive not only in school, but also at home. She links her students to educational services, after-school activities, and resources to address learning disabilities. Most importantly, she advocates for her clients in times of crisis, when feelings of depression and high levels of anxiety are most likely to arise. Her job is to assess the situation and the client’s needs, then provide the necessary recommendations.

“We have to deal with what is the current need of the student,” she said.

What makes Children’s Aid so fortunate to have Karina is her ability to connect with students. To Karina, her job is not about jumping to conclusions or judging the student on what brought them to the clinic. It’s about getting to know the client as a person.

“I tell them, ‘You are an individual. Your problems are not you,’” she said.

After she graduated from SUNY New Paltz, Karina landed a job as a youth coordinator at the Riverdale Neighborhood House, where she organized and facilitated workshops to prepare students for future careers and college success. Her experience led her to earn her master’s degree in social work from SUNY Stony Brook. Prior to Children’s Aid, Karina volunteered with AmeriCorps and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“It has always been in me, the need to want to give back to my community and to know that the work I do makes a difference,” she said.

Karina realizes that there are challenges to her position, but what makes her job so important, she says, is when the “light bulb” turns on in a student. It is then that she knows she is truly making a difference.


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Children’s Aid in the White House

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When the White House calls, you pick up the phone. And Children’s Aid feels very fortunate that the White House called earlier this year.

First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Reach Higher Initiative to “inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.” Last week, the initiative staged a panel called Beating the Odds to focus on programs and strategies that had documented success in helping young people in challenging neighborhoods achieve. And community schools had a seat in the front of the room.

Jane Quinn represented Children’s Aid and the National Center for Community Schools. She brought with her Jeff Palladino, the principal at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, where we have operated a community school for several years, and one of his former students and current Children’s Aid employee, Elvis Santana.

In the words of Jane, “Children’s Aid was all over the room.” Elvis told his personal story about how staff at Fannie Lou diverted him from a life that might have involved gangs and drugs and gone very wrong. Instead, he is a graduate of Albert Magnus College in Connecticut.

David Kirp, a professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, and regular contributor to the New York Times, talked about our long-term experience in community schools as he moderated the panel that Jane sat on.

“The Obama Administration understands that schools cannot succeed on their own,” said Jane the day after the event. “Schools need to engage community-based organizations like ours. One thing that really came through was the importance of confident, caring adults. Mentors, role models, internships, that came through in every story we heard.”

As one might expect, there was significant media interest in the visit. DNAinfo ran a strong piece in anticipation of the visit and News 12 Bronx visited Fannie Lou the day after everyone returned from our nation’s capital, ending another significant moment for the community school strategy.


Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Three

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Nick Difato Social Work Month

As a social worker in our family foster care services, Nick’s overarching responsibility is to create safer and more stable environments for children and their families. This requires him, like his colleagues, to wear many hats. So on a typical day, Nick finds himself balancing the duties equal to that of a journalist and a firefighter.

During home visits, he observes and notes areas where a family can benefit from support, a requirement to track the well-being of the child. Then there are the unexpected emergencies that require “putting out four fires at a time,” that leave very little room for drawn out decision-making.

“I love being in the field,” Nick said. “I love having to use my wits and mind to think on the spot to come up with solutions.”

These tasks all lend to Nick’s most prominent role as a social worker—being an advocate for children in care and their families, whether they are birth or foster parents. It is a difficult job, especially when trying to assess and meet the needs of each case. “Every kid has their own story,” he said. “Every family has their own story.”

Embracing this helps him keep the end goal in mind. He said, “It’s all for the safety of the children.”

Nick’s big picture goal when he takes a case is to leave the family stronger and healthier when they leave his care. That in itself would be enough for his job satisfaction. But Nick shoots higher, focusing on leaving a lasting impression on his clients.

“You are going to have to say things your clients do not want to hear, but it’s not about engaging in battles. It’s about gaining their respect and their trust.”


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Associates Council to Help Kids Smile Brighter

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Every year, the Associates Council of The Children’s Aid Society identifies an initiative that defines how it uses its time, talents, and resources. This year, the council is supporting dental services— a core component of health services provided at Children’s Aid community clinics and school-based health centers.   

The prevalence of tooth decay (known as dental caries disease) in primary teeth is high. Many children continue to suffer unnecessarily from untreated tooth decay, and minority and children living in low-income neighborhoods tend to be among those at highest risk. Nationally, 28 percent of children ages 2-5 have already experienced tooth decay. Additional research shows that disparities are apparent with respect to poverty, race, and ethnicity. About 94 percent of Medicaid-eligible children in New York under three, and 62 percent of those between 3-5 years, did not receive any dental care during 2009.

In addition to causing needless pain and suffering, tooth decay can cause eating difficulties, altered speech, loss of tooth structure or tooth loss, unsightly appearance and poor self-esteem, and much more. According to the Surgeon General, children with oral disease miss more than 51 million hours of school each year.

Children’s Aid provided dental services to 2,664 patients through 6,003 dental visits in 2015 and is one of the few providers that bring dental care to children where they are: schools. Dental services are provided at just 18 of the 145 school-based health centers (SBHCs) in NYC. Moving onto 2016, Children’s Aid will be partnering with Healthplex to bring no-touch dental screenings to children in more than 30 schools affiliated with Children’s Aid. These effective treatments allow dental professionals to monitor oral health for children without the anxiety that can occur for children visiting the dentist. Children’s Aid believes that more than 10,000 children could be screened and set on a path to better dental health.

Despite its importance to physical health, socioeconomic outcomes, and basic self-confidence, dental services remain significantly underfunded. With that understanding of its profound effect on youth, the Associates Council is proud to raise funds to complement dental service programming; we’re excited to donate, volunteer, and advocate for this important cause. Last month, we visited the Dunlevy Millbank Community Center to meet with Children’s Aid dental professionals, community center staff, and students to shoot a short film on their experiences at the dentist and why they love to smile bright. Be sure to check out our social media platforms below for previews of our short that will premiere at our Sixth Annual Spring Fundraiser, “Smile Brighter” on Thursday, April 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Penthouse on Fifth Avenue.

Tickets are now available to attend this year’s Spring Fundraiser located at All net proceeds will impact direct services for children and youth at Children’s Aid affiliated schools and SBHCs. We look forward to seeing your smile there! #smilebrightercas

For updates on upcoming volunteer activities and events, follow the Associates Council on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn


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Oh, The Places They’ll Go

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College Access And Success Trip to Washington

Each child’s potential increases with expanded access to opportunities. So it is no accident that one of the five pillars of our College Access and Success work is exposure. The Adolescence team is working with high school teens in our programs and sites across the organization to make sure they are aware of all of their options for college.

Last month, they took 44 high school juniors from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and Opportunity Charter School on visits to colleges in the Washington, DC and Maryland region. At both Howard University and George Washington University, students went on campus tours, attended informational sessions, and ate in the dining halls to get a real sense of college life.

“It’s great because they see themselves applying to the schools they are visiting,” said Felipe Ayala, the College Access Assistant Manager in the Adolescence Division.  

For some students the trip was the first time they had left New York City. And rooming with other students on the trip who they didn’t know beforehand gave them a sense of life in the dorms and helped crystalize the possibility of going away for college.

More visits are on the horizon to Utica, Binghamton, and Union, which are all funded by New York State’s Higher Education Service Corporation. And we are excited to see our students continue to find that their options for the future are much larger than they originally imagined.


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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Two

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Lori doesn’t advise her students—she guides them. If someone is struggling with an issue, she challenges that student to consider a different perspective, rather than rely on an adult for the answer. “Helping my students reflect on their situation teaches them how they can handle it on their own in the future,” she said. “Empowerment really is the core of my work.”

As a graduate student, Lori interned with the school based mental health clinic at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. It led her to her current work with the Carrera Pregnancy Prevention Program at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women where, “with a guiding hand,” she aims to make her students feel safe and supported.

On a day to day basis, Lori helps high school girls successfully make the transition from their home environment to school. “Normalizing their experiences for them lets them see that they are not the only ones going through what may be happening at home,” she said. And it leaves them fully able to focus in the classroom and on their future. The college process presents another set of anxieties for high schoolers, but Lori and her colleagues also provide social-emotional support around college applications and the transition that comes with leaving high school.

Students might not always be willing to talk at first, but that doesn’t stop Lori’s work. “Just being there is important,” she said. “The fact that you are there and the fact that you have a relationship with them – even if they are not ready to talk to you yet—they feel comfortable knowing that they can approach you at a later time.”


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Celebrate National Nutrition Month!

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March is National Nutrition Month. We want to take a second to recognize how important nutrition is to our work in building the well-being of New York City children and offer some a way for you to get invested in this month.

We are proud to offer quality nutrition education to our youth and the families we serve, in addition to providing healthy, wholesome meals to our children in Early Childhood and School Age divisions. This work is led through our Go!Healthy program and touches nearly every corner of the organization:

  • Go!Chefs—This after-school program teaches cooking and nutrition to youth and culminates in the Iron Go!Chefs competition each year.
  • Go!Kids and Go!Kids Cook—This Early Childhood program teaches children ages 3 and 4 about healthy foods and has them preparing their own meals and snacks in the classroom.
  • Eat Smart New York— This vast initiative includes nutrition and cooking education for youth in our after-school programs, healthy eating workshops for adults and Children’s Aid and Department of Education staff, and recipes and resources for building and maintaining healthy habits.
  • Food Justice—This after-school program encourages middle and high-school students to connect food to social, political, and economic themes that affect their communities.
  • Gardening— We support the creation and maintenance of indoor and/or outdoor gardens at a number of our sites, using them as teaching and learning tools.
  • Go!Healthy Meals— Children’s Aid provides hundreds of thousands of fresh, wholesome meals to children in early childhood and after-school programming across many Children’s Aid sites. This involves planning menus, training and supporting cooks, and assisting in food procurement.

The theme for National Nutrition Month 2016 is “Savor the Flavor.” You can use it as an opportunity to honor and savor traditional food culture and appreciating flavors and foods as we eat. 

TIP! Take time to savor your food and drinks: this practice will help you truly understand what your body needs to stay energized and well. Check in with your own hunger and fullness throughout the day to help your body adjust to the demands of your daily life. And be mindful to honor what and how much food you need to feel good.

One way to honor your food is to connect it to your culture and history. As Go!Healthy nutritionist Kathleen Delgado notes, “There is such an important connection between culture and food. My mom emigrated from Ecuador in the 1980s and had a difficult time adjusting to American culture and life. Trying to prepare and hold onto the traditional recipes that she grew up with were sometimes all she had when thinking about her family back home and raising her daughters in a new place. She found peace and comfort in teaching us these recipes, and I’m grateful that I can make them too.”

This month, enjoy your family’s favorite recipes and take time to appreciate its history and place in your life!  


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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers

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Washington Heights

March is National Social Work Month, and Children’s Aid is proud of our social work staff for their tireless efforts in the communities we serve. Every week in March, we will shine a light on one of our very own social workers, caseworkers, case planners, and family advocates, all of whom are fulfilling the organization’s mission to help children and their families succeed and thrive. This week we put the spotlight on Veronica Miller.

Veronica, a family advocate at P.S. 5, is working with families to ensure that they help their children develop. Her dedication to Children’s Aid stems from her own experience as a parent seeking the same resources and opportunities she provides her clients today.

“I know how it feels to be a parent,” she said. “It’s not an easy task. I wanted to give to someone else what I felt I got from Children’s Aid."

Her drive to assist parents begins with the idea that if parents receive the tools they need, their children will succeed. In her words, “If the parents are okay, the children are okay.”

Her commitment to Children’s Aid began 17 years ago when she was a volunteer for a parent engagement group with P.S. 8. She then earned her degree in early childhood education and became a home-based teacher two weeks after she graduated. However, she later realized that her passion was in helping Washington Heights families receive the professional, medical, and educational resources they needed to thrive.

“I said, ‘We need to do something to help these people.’”

In 2007, she took on the role she holds today. A true testament to her work is the fact that she has attracted a number of people to join the Children’s Aid Society. In total, seven parents have become family advocates or teachers in Washington Heights.

“Children’s Aid is close to my heart because it did a lot for me,” Veronica said. “We all go through what we go through. Why not share it?”


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Connecting Community to the Classroom: 5th Annual Lift Every Voice Competition

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This past weekend, The Children’s Aid Society’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI) hosted its 5th annual Lift Every Voice competition. The public speaking series, part of the program’s Black History Month tradition, challenges its young participants to strengthen their writing and verbal skills beyond the classroom by critically engaging in social issues through persuasive speeches and debate.

Approximately 75 participants, from grades 4-12, took part in this year’s competition. They assessed the validity of the statement, “If you work hard, you can achieve anything in America.” The students also presented expository speeches that answered the question, “What would you do to address police brutality?” New York Assembly members Michael Blake and Marcos Crespo attended the event to support the young participants. Blake spoke about how public speaking was critical to developing his career in politics, and Crespo served as a judge during the expository speech round.

Clifton Watson, director of AAMI, said, “We recognize that the competition’s continued success speaks to just how much young people welcome being challenged and the opportunity to speak about—and offer solutions to—some of the most pressing issues facing their communities.”

Each year, Lift Every Voice reinforces our goal at Children’s Aid to bridge the gap between the classroom and the community by providing enriching opportunities for our young people to put the skills they develop in our schools and programming to use. 


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Advocating for School-Based Health Centers in Albany

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Advocates for School-Based Health Centers

Children’s Aid is lucky to have so many parents who are deeply engaged in their children’s well-being. Dozens of them trekked to the state capital last week—along with students and staff—for another successful advocacy day for school-based health centers (SBHCs). In partnership with the New York School-Based Health Alliance, we asked our state legislators to a) support Gov. Cuomo's $20.6 million budget for SBHCs, b) add $3.8 million to bring us to previous year's level of funding, and c) to extend the deadline for big changes to the way Medicaid treats services at SBHCs. We heard from SBHC champions like Assembly member Richard Gottfried and received immediate results from legislators who signed the Governor’s sign-on letter.  We had two buses from Children’s Aid—one from Washington Heights with parents from MSC and SU Campus, and another one from Staten Island with Curtis High School students. All told, 60 activists made the trip, including 22 students, 29 parents, and 9 staff.

One mother, Maria Morales, explained the effect the SBHC has had in her child’s life due to severe asthma: “I consider it of vital importance to continue supporting the SBHCs for the great care that they offer our children and fighting for our community for a better life. I hope our legislators support this noble cause.”

One Curtis High School senior explained how she’s grateful to have an SBHC in her school. Prior to the SBHC opening two years ago, she was forced to miss school due to severe anxiety. She said, “Coming from a family who believes prayers will cure everything, I knew I needed more help. I went to the health center one day and since then my grades, attendance, and confidence have improved significantly. I wouldn’t be able to share my story if it wasn’t for the SBHC. Whenever my anxiety flares, which doesn’t happen as often anymore, I go to the health center, center myself for a period or two, then go right back to class. Before it was a call home and my mom had to pick me up from school.”

SBHCs are in danger of losing at least $16.3 million in funding when they are “carved-in” to the new Medicaid Managed Care. Our SBHC parents and students met with their district legislators, including Assembly member Guillermo Linares, a staffer on behalf of Senator Adriano Espaillat, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Assembly member Blake, a staff member on behalf of Senator Diane Savino, and a staff member on behalf of Assembly member Matthew Titone. Our advocates asked them to support Governor Cuomo’s proposed State Budget for 2016-2017. We also asked our legislators to permanently exclude mental health services from this new Medicaid program.

When the buses rumbled back to New York City, the people inside them knew they had done a good day’s work. 


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