The Children's Aid Blog

Bishops and Knights in After-School

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Twice a week, battles occur at P.S. 5 Ellen Lurie Community School-- battles on the black and white chessboards in Ms. Feng’s room where each student vies to dethrone his or her opponent’s king during Chess Club. Each Tuesday and Thursday, groups of students spend 45 minutes of afterschool time in Chess Club. The Club’s curriculum is varied for each group’s level of competency and cognitive ability. For example, kindergarteners focus on learning the different pieces, reading storybooks about chess amd playing human chess by standing up and moving around via the square floor tiles. Older students in the 4th and 5th grade focus on strategy and calculating risk during heated matches. 

Each match of chess begins and ends with a handshake, a gesture of sportsmanship and respect. Students deftly maneuver pawns, rooks, bishops and knights; they memorize the intricate patterns in which each piece is able to move. Students learn to carefully consider their moves in a safe and relaxing environment—kids are able to think, play and unwind from the academic day during this activity. Chess proves to be more than just a game. Each semester, students display measurable increases in skills and proficiencies including: thinking ahead, math skills, visual and spacial awareness and improved self confidence. The Chess Club is a prized part of the afterschool clubs at PS 5.

Mary Newcomb
Development Assistant
The Children's Aid Society

Food + TV = Bad Eating Habits?

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In the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President, released in May 2010, it is clear that the challenge America faces in fighting childhood obesity is daunting. This national epidemic not only has life altering and threatening consequences but is also extremely costly. One in three children is obese and direct medical costs due to childhood obesity are estimated to be at $3 billion a year. The plea to the President is hopeful that because some contributing factors to childhood obesity are apparent, there can be regulations to possibly reverse these growing numbers.

One of the many factors contributing to childhood obesity is the increase in time spent watching television and surfing the internet. Not only does this decrease a child’s physical activity but children are bombarded with advertising for unhealthy lifestyle choices and food products. Marketers know that children and adolescents are an important demographic to advertise to because they will be the future adult consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimated that in 2006 more than $1.6 billion was spent to promote food and beverage products to children and adolescents. One popular marketing technique used in advertising is the use of characters from popular television programming. In a research study conducted by Sesame Workshop in 2005, it is shown that the use of popular characters has a strong influence on the food choices little ones will make regardless of it being healthy.

In response to a growing concern by the public, the Council of Better Business Bureaus created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). The initiative is intended to regulate food and beverage advertising. One of the conditions set by the CFBAI for companies is that 50% of their advertising must promote healthier lifestyle choices. And what about those fuzzy and adorable characters that our youngsters follow so much? If they are not promoting “healthier-for-you” products that meet the criteria set by the CFBAI, their air time must be reduced. Though a step in the right direction, the efforts of the CFBAI have been criticized for failing to apply to all forms of advertising, including displays near check-out counters. In 2009, Children Now commissioned a study to analyze the efficiency of the CFBAI and also found that the use of popular characters in advertisements for unhealthy products had nearly doubled.

Clearly, more work is needed and stronger standards must be set. Congress formed the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) in 2009. This group developed tentative standards in December of 2009 and is working on publishing set standards in the Federal Register, the official daily publication of proposed new rules and regulations, in the near future. Federal government guidance and regulation will be necessary to turn the corner in the fight against childhood obesity. Other recommendations by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity include:

  • Extending the self-regulatory initiative to cover all forms of marketing including point of purchase displays
  • Limit the use of popular characters to products that are truly healthy
  • Both food and media industries should adopt a uniform set of standards for marketing to children

Additional comments by Kathy de Meij, Director of Marketing, The Children’s Aid Society: “While we’re pleased there’s movement to protect our children’s health, the tightening of regulations should only be the first step. The Task Force should then pursue a total ban on junk food advertising to children (similar to the ban on advertising tobacco products). The ban should define junk foods in a very rigid manner to include all foods high in sugar, fat and salt, including products such as high-sugar cereals that falsely market themselves as healthy by including synthetic vitamins. We also need a comprehensive national outreach program that moves public opinion and children’s behavior permanently to healthy eating for long term health, similar to the efforts undertaken to use seat belts for safety. “

Richard R. Buery, Jr. Celebrates Iron Go!Chefs Competition

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On June 11th, I had the honor of serving as a judge at the first annual Iron Go! Chefs competition at the East Harlem Center! (To see the NY1 story about the competition, click here.) Teams of middle school students from our East Harlem Center, IS 98, Mirabal Sisters Campus, IS 166, and Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School competed in a healthy cooking competition. My fellow judges included ABC News Health Correspondent Dr. Richard Besser, James Beard award-winning cookbook author Lorna Sass, and Children’s Aid own Jacqueline Morillo, our cook at East Harlem, and Next Generation Catering crew member Ryan Frazier.

The judges had the honor of tasting five delicious meals, any of which I would be happy to be served in a restaurant, and the difficult task of choosing award winners. I was blown away, as I usually am, by the talent of our children and the dedication of our staff.

The Iron Go! Chefs competition exemplified the best of Children’s Aid: programmatic innovation, project based learning, youth development, healthy eating and lifestyles, and – of course – fun! Not only was each participant a winner but each team stood out for their delicious culinary creations:

  • Taking the award for the Most Healthful Dish was the tasty whole wheat pasta with beans and veggies created by the I.S. 98 Chefettes.
  • Best Teamwork award went to the Mirabal Sister’s Campus Food Fighters for their collaborative efforts on the Omelette a la Mirabal and Papaya Strawberry Smoothie.
  • The award for Best Presentation went to the home team, the East Harlem Center Mighty Bites, for their decorative Salmon Caliente with Quinoa, Asiago Asparagus and Spiced Sweet Potato Wedges.
  • The award for Most Original Dish went to IS 166’s Fire and Spice team for their creative Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Carrot Brown Rice Risotto.
  • The awards for Best Tasting Dish and Best All Around in the competition went to the Fannie Lou Hamer Saute Champions for their perfectly executed and delicious tasting Shrimp Saute with Creamy Polenta and Pesto Sauce.

I would like to give a special shout out to all of the people who made this fantastic evening possible:

Stefania Patinella – Children’s Aid’s queen of healthy living and the leader of this effort!

Ellen Barker – who did a fantastic job coordinating the entire celebration!

East Harlem Center “Mighty Bites” team: Diana Matias, Educational Coordinator and Jasan Edwards, Chef Instructor…and of course David and his whole staff for hosting!

IS 98 Chefettes team: Venus White, Program Director and Farah Reyes, Chef Instructor

IS 166 “Fire and Spice”: Chevar Francis, Program Director and Brandon Henry, Chef Instructor. Chevar deserves a special shout out, because he conceived the idea in the first place!

Fannie Lou Hamer Saute Champions: Oscar Guzman, Program Director and Corinne Shaw, Chef Instructor

Mirabal Sisters Campus Food Fighters: Atiyya Abdur-Rahman, Assistant Program Director, Luz Jimenez, Chef Instructor and Katherine Mordan, Chef’s Assistant

Wishing you a summer full of happy and healthy eating!

Richard R. Buery, Jr.
President and CEO
The Children's Aid Society

The Arts are Alive at Children’s Aid!

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It was hard to tell who was more excited – the children or their parents – as everyone poured into the auditorium at El Museo del Barrio on the evening of May 21. Anticipation ran high for the 13th annual Children’s Aid Society Spring Concert, the first to feature performances from the agency’s Arts Alive program, which now encompasses dance, musical theater and a jazz ensemble, in addition to choruses from Children’s Aid community centers across the city.

Over 200 children between the ages of 5 and 18 from Washington Heights, Harlem, Greenwich Village and the Bronx dazzled the crowd with their talents. From the opening note of the Chorus’ first song, “Fever,” everyone knew that the concert would be special. The Drew Hamilton Harmony in Harlem Jazz Band transported the audience to a jazz club with a range of classics.

The evening also featured an awards ceremony to honor The Children’s Aid Society’s “Future Songs of the City” Composition Grants winners. The Chorus debuted “Music Box,” a new song by Grand Prize winner Polina Nazaykinskaya.

The grand finale brought all the young performers to the stage for a rousing, cheerful rendition of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Even in the darkened auditorium, everyone felt the sun’s warm rays and left with a song in their hearts.

Charlene Visconti Named New Director of Homemaker Services for The Children’s Aid Society

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The Children’s Aid Society is pleased to announce the appointment of Charlene Visconti as Director of Homemaker Services.

The Children’s Aid Society’s Homemaker Services was founded in 1933 to directly assist New York City families at home. Today’s Homemakers are certified para-professionals trained to help some of NYC’s most stressed families stay together through difficult times. Homemakers are supervised and supported by social workers and assist families with household management, including caring for children; and offer family support counseling and advocacy, connecting families to concrete services such as public assistance and health insurance.

Ms. Visconti, a graduate of the NYU School of Law, brings a wealth of experience in the health care field and in risk management. Most recently she served as the Assistant Dean for the Preprofessional Advising Center at the NYU College of Arts and Science. Previously Ms. Visconti was the Director of Risk Management at Bellevue Hospital and a staff attorney for Legal Services of New York.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Charlene Visconti’s rich background to lead our Homemaker Services,” said Josh Friedman, Director of Counseling and Home Based Services at Children’s Aid. “Charlene will play a pivotal role in helping Homemaker Services thrive during a time period in which the City’s social network is being so severely challenged.”

Ms. Visconti succeeds Mary Hutson, who retired in June after 29 years with The Children’s Aid Society.

Helping Families Heal: The Children’s Aid Society’s Domestic Violence Services

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The family is the corner stone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged.When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together, all the rest — schools, playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern — will never be enough.

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Domestic violence is a serious behavioral issue which adversely affects every member of the family. The Children’s Aid Society’s innovative Family Wellness Program provides comprehensive services to help parents and children stay safe and eventually heal from the effects of domestic abuse.

Safety is critical, handled by the Program’s experienced case managers, advocacy specialists, and crisis management counselors. From safe shelters, housing, and public benefits to legal assistance with orders of protection and emergency response – the Family Wellness Program Case Manager is the “go to” person for families in crisis.

We begin the process of helping families heal from the trauma of domestic violence by giving them free access to support groups, as well as one-to-one and group counseling sessions with Family Wellness Program therapists specializing in abusive relationships. Survivors, witnesses and perpetrators (abusive partners) of domestic abuse receive professional help to understand the effects of violence, learn to modify extreme behavioral patterns and begin healing.

Our objective is to, whenever possible, keep families together.

Recently, The Children’s Aid Society has expanded domestic violence support services to East and Central Harlem and the Washington Heights district, as part of our unwavering commitment to helping families in crisis – one family at a time.

These Kids Have Common Cents!

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Students at P.S. 1, The Alfred E. Smith School on the Lower East Side in NYC, recently held their annual Penny Harvest Check Presentation Ceremony. The Children’s Aid Society was one of nine lucky organizations chosen by the Penny Harvest Roundtable Philanthropy Service group at P.S. 1 to receive a Penny Harvest check from Common Cents. The 2nd and 3rd graders at P.S. 1 were able to raise $1,000 over the course of the year, a portion of which was donated to Children’s Aid.

The funds were raised through the efforts of the students, staff and parents. In the fall the students held a festival where the monies raised from the purchase of food, pumpkins, games, books, toys, plants, pottery; and a raffle all went towards their Penny Harvest Initiative. Additionally, over the course of the year, the students continued to pass their class collection containers to add to the total monies raised.

How did these 2nd and 3rd graders narrow down the competition, you may be wondering? The students chose the organizations after exploring community needs. They explored different organizations by asking for suggestions, computer research, and phone interviews, as well as hosting on-site speakers at P.S. 1. The students then matched organizations with needs and voted on which needs to address and which organizations to contribute to.

Along with Children’s Aid there were many worthy causes in attendance to receive their checks, including The American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, The Fresh Air Fund and New Yorkers for Parks. Along with the students, teachers, parent aides and staff in attendance, Time for Kids magazine, a representative from Common Cents, creators of the Penny Harvest, as well as a representative from NYC Service of the Mayor’s Office were all in attendance. The afternoon included brief statements on the importance of giving and philanthropy, check presentations, Penny Harvest Roundtable Student Award Presentations and a pizza party.

It is so encouraging and inspiring to see NYC children finding ways to truly make a difference to those we provide services for. As cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead said so wonderfully, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Thank you P.S. 1!

Patty Landry
Manager, Annual Giving
The Children's Aid Society

Helping Families Heal: The Children’s Aid Society’s Domestic Violence Services

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Domestic violence is a serious behavioral issue which adversely affects every member of the family.  The Children’s Aid Society’s innovative Family Wellness Program provides comprehensive services to help parents and children stay safe and eventually heal from the effects of domestic abuse. hands wed Safety is critical, handled by the Program’s experienced case managers, advocacy specialists, and crisis management counselors. 

From safe shelters, housing, and public benefits to legal assistance with orders of protection and emergency response – the Family Wellness Program Case Manager is the “go to” person for families in crisis. We begin the process of helping families heal from the trauma of domestic violence by giving them free access to support groups, as well as one-to-one and group counseling sessions with Family Wellness Program therapists specializing in abusive relationships. Survivors, witnesses and perpetrators (abusive partners) of domestic abuse receive professional help to understand the effects of violence, learn to modify extreme behavioral patterns and begin healing.

Recently, The Children’s Aid Society has expanded domestic violence support services to East and Central Harlem and the Washington Heights district, as part of our unwavering commitment to helping families in crisis – one family at a time.

Fixing Foster Care

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For some children, the foster care system is the best route out of abusive living situations to stable loving homes. Thanks to new state reforms and procedures children are spending less time in foster care limbo- court cases are being expedited and adoptions are happening faster.

In June, many websites, including Forbes.com and MSNBC.com, and print publications ran a story by Associated Press David Crary on the successful reforms of the foster care system. The system has three key components- shorter stays in foster care; faster adoptions; and reaching out to, intervening and offering support to troubled families so that children can avoid entering foster care in the first place.  This strategy that approaches foster care from all angles has had great success in many states dramatically lowering the number of children in foster care. John Mattingly, commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, pointed out that since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s, the foster care population in New York City has been declining from its highest at 50,000 children. According to the most recent federal data the number of children in foster care in the United States has decreased by 17% since 1998.

Though some worry that budget cuts will affect the new policies, it’s not stopping some states - New York, Florida, California and Ohio, to name a few - from pursuing their goals of significantly lowering the foster child population.  These states have been working diligently to reduce their budgets, and they deem a child’s removal from their home the ‘worst case scenario’. One of the major problems keeping foster children out of adopted homes is the slow moving court system. Even though drastic reforms are being made, it’s not the norm yet, and delays in the courts still occur.

A new budget cut in New York could cost 3,000 families any preventive services , and without the funding, it’s hard to tell whether these new procedures will continue to be successful or not. Preventive service programs provide counseling to struggling families to try to avoid a child’s removal. Jane Golden of The Children’s Aid Society said, “All of these models that we’ve seen as successful are in danger - there’s a great risk of going back to the old days.”

Whatever the situation - poverty, neglect or abuse - many children are removed from their homes but often have long waits to join new, safe and supportive families.  Only time and perseverance can bring about change, and we hope the budget cuts do not affect the hard work and great progress that have been made in improving the foster care system.

Children’s Aid Parents Graduate from Pepin Leadership Institute

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They arrived early to set-up their work - decorations, upholstered furniture, dresses and curtains.  Their family and friends oohed and awed at the creativity and obvious hard work. Great things are always happening at  Children’s Aid Community Schools.

On Saturday, June 5th, nearly 400 parents from five Washington Heights Community Schools graduated from The Children’s Aid Society Ercilia Pepin Parent Leadership Institute at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. The Institute offers guidance on navigating the school system in order to improve their children’s education. While getting empowered to advocate for their children in their schools, the Institute also offers parents educational and personal enrichment of their own. Parents can take GED, literacy, technology or child care licensing classes. Courses in upholstery, dress making, wood and fabric painting and culinary arts are also available. Many of their finished pieces, edible or wearable, decorated the school’s cafeteria for all eyes to see.

The parents were greeted and congratulated by New York State Senator Bill Perkins, New York State Assembly Members Adriano Espaillat and Herman Farrell and New York City Council Member Robert Jackson. On hand to award the “We Are New York” Conversation Program certificates for English was Anthony Tassi, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Adult Programs.