The Children's Aid Blog

Harlem Youth Show Off Knowledge and Skill in Moot Court

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The Street Law participants at The Children’s Aid Society’s Hope Leadership Academy in Harlem concluded their program with a successful Moot Court on Friday, April 8th at the Fried Frank Law Firm. The event showcased the students’ accomplishments and growth. The Street Law curriculum at Hope consists of 10 interactive lessons centered around the 4th Amendment (Search and Seizure).

The participants, with the guidance of their New York Law School student trainers, worked on developing arguments for a case involving searches conducted on school property. Before a panel of three judges, the students took turns debating both sides. Some argued that the searches were excessively intrusive while others represented the school’s interests arguing that the searches were a necessary way to maintain school safety. Both sides cited past cases to support their positions.

The Moot Court session was followed by a celebration that included food, drinks and a ceremony to honor students and mentors alike. Moot Court winners were awarded gift bags including gift certificates, movie tickets and t-shirts. The students took the opportunity to thank their volunteer mentors from New York Law School, presenting them with certificates of appreciation.

Click here to learn more about the many important programs going on at Hope Leadership Academy.

East Harlem Center Keystone Club Honored for Work in Career Exploration and Community Service

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The Children’s Aid Society’s East Harlem Center has much to celebrate! The center’s Keystone Club recently attended the 2011 National Keystone Conference in Orlando, Florida, where they were awarded the top prize in Career Exploration for their CSI: East Harlem event held in the fall of 2010. The Keystoners wanted to explore the fields of criminology and forensic science after learning that many of their peers at the center share an interest in these potential career paths. They spent weeks planning, writing and rehearsing a CSI-inspired, murder mystery skit. Hard work also went into identifying key panelists who could share their experiences and knowledge with the center’s participants. Panel members included missing persons detective Roberto Santos, mystery/crime novelist Doug Magee, NYC Medical Examiner Dr. Vincent Tranchida and Assistant District Attorneys Shanda Strain and Jung Park. The event was a great success and with help from the panel of professionals, the murder mystery was solved!

Along with Florida’s warmth, the group brought back a shiny new plaque to add to their collection at the East Harlem Center, a Boys & Girls Club of America affiliate. The youth also received $1,500 to be used towards their club’s future projects.

The Keystone Club enables young people to demonstrate leadership and build character through community service projects and fundraising. The East Harlem Center Keystone Club also received a “Runner Up” award of $500 in the National Keystone Project: Save Our Society category. Their winning project was a program they designed called “Happy Feet for the Sole.” The youth collected shoes to be donated to communities in Senegal, Africa after learning of the growing number of people contracting parasitic diseases from walking around in dirty water, dirt and soil. The collection of shoes will help children and adults avoid such infections that can lead to the loss of limbs and in worse cases, death. The donation of over 100 pair of shoes will reach Senegal by way of YES, Inc., an organization in Georgia.

Congrats to The East Harlem Center’s award-winning Keystone Club!

Milbank Center Student Shares His Experiences, Speaks out Against Federal Budget Cuts

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On March 21st, The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development hosted a public town hall/information session at The Children’s Aid Society’s Dunlevy Milbank Center. The topic was the potential loss of critical federal funds through the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). Jacob Torres Jackson, a Milbank Center participant (pictured at left), captivated the crowd when he delivered a speech that recounted his experiences at the Center and his attachment to its staff members and programs.

“Three weeks ago I got my report card and the first place I went to was Milbank. I wanted to show the staff my improvement. The staff was so proud of me and I was so proud of myself because the staff told me I did so great” said Jacob. “That’s what I wanted and needed to hear from my family at Milbank.”

Jacob also shared his fear of the losing important centers such as Milbank, a loss that would not only deeply impact his life but the lives of many of his peers. Last year, NYC received $31.9 million dollars through CSBG, which funded more than 200 community-based organizations and served 30,000 New York City residents. If the funding is cut at the federal level, it would be a devastating blow for NYC. In Harlem alone, it would mean a loss of $3.7 million and would affect 4,000 children and families. “Milbank keeps us kids out of the street… I am so grateful for all they do for me! It’s important that we all speak out against the budget cuts that can affect us youth! No to budget cuts!!!!”

CSBG is a federal program that provides critical funding to states and cities to support a broad range of community-based programs to combat poverty, empower people to achieve self-sufficiency, and revitalize low-income communities. CSBG funding supports programs for youth, families, seniors and immigrants in New York City.

Click here to read Jacob’s entire speech on Congressman’s Charles B. Rangel’s website.

Photo Credit: Lily Kesselman

Richard Buery, Children's Aid President and CEO, Responds to Calls for ACS Commissioner's Resignation

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The Children’s Aid Society serves tens of thousands of New York City children every day, including more than 4,000 children and families in the child welfare system. Ensuring the safety and well being of our city’s most vulnerable children is difficult work. It requires serious leadership, and I believe that John Mattingly, Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), has been such a leader.

Commissioner Mattingly has offered strong, consistent guidance on child welfare and is a recognized national expert in the field. He understands what it takes to work with families in crisis and how to make the difficult decisions that caseworkers make day in and day out. Mattingly has also put in place several mechanisms to strengthen accountability – both at ACS and with private child welfare agencies. These have no doubt strengthened child welfare practices across the City.

The tragic deaths of Marchella Pierce and Kymell Oram have understandably increased concerns about the effectiveness of New York City’s child welfare system. They should. But I disagree with recent calls for Commissioner Mattingly’s resignation. These calls scapegoat the head of ACS instead of confronting the systemic challenges involved in protecting children from abuse. Not the least of these challenges has been the public underinvestment in child protective services.

A recent analysis by the Independent Budget Office of budget cuts at 10 city agencies from 2009-2011 found that ACS received the deepest cut – 26.4% – as compared to 5.9% for the fire department and 6.7% for the police department. Commissioner Mattingly has worked hard to minimize the impact of those cuts, but make no mistake: just as excessively reducing the budgets of the police and fire departments would necessarily impact public safety, excessively reducing the ACS budget impacts our ability to protect and serve New York City’s children. The bravery of child welfare workers is often not seen in the same light as the bravery of our law enforcement, emergency, or military personnel—yet the work they do to protect our most vulnerable populations is as critically important.

Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS

New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez Talks About the Importance of Early Childhood Education

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On Sunday March 27, 2011, about 35 Children’s Aid Society parents attended City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez’s State of the District Address held at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez Campus, a Children's Aid Community School in Washington Heights.

In the Council Member’s address, he talked about his accomplishments since 2009 and shared his vision for the neighborhood going forward. Rodriguez emphasized the importance of investing in early childhood education and acknowledged The Children’s Aid Society for its work in this field. “As a former educator, the issue of education is one that I have been committed to for many years and so I cannot emphasize enough how important our children’s education is, specifically education for children ages zero to five. Scientific research has proven time and again that the biggest investment we can make is to invest in our children’s education from the start.”

In closing, Council Member Rodriguez called upon his constituents to band together in order to make their neighborhoods safer and build a thriving community. “We need to continue to work together to ensure that our community is the best that it can be. We need to help one another to find more solutions to the problems that exist.”

Click here to learn more about The Children's Aid Society's Early Childhood programs.

Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program is Awarded $3.5 Million Social Innovation Fund Grant

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The Children’s Aid Society Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (CAS-Carrera) has been awarded a $3.5 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) to deepen the program’s impact in New York City and replicate it nationally. CAS-Carrera is one of nine recipients in a national competition that identifies innovative programs working to solve problems confronting low-income youth in America. With this investment, CAS-Carrera plans to serve approximately 10,000-11,000 young people nationally over the next three years, a growth of up to 50%.

The Children’s Aid Society is thrilled that the Carrera Program has been selected as a national leader in improving the lives of low-income youth,” said President and CEO Richard R. Buery, Jr. “This grant will help us significantly increase the number of young people we are working with to stop early pregnancy and start them on the path to a full and productive adult life.”

Founded in 1984 by Dr. Michael A. Carrera, this evidence-based pregnancy prevention model helps young people avoid becoming parents during the second decade of their lives. The holistic program combines daily academic enrichment, with weekly exposure and experience in the world of work, mental health services, family life and sexuality education, and comprehensive no-cost medical and dental services, as well as self-expression and lifetime individual sports. The medically accurate comprehensive sexuality education component contains a consistent and strong abstinence message. The program engages young people year-round, beginning in the fifth or sixth grade, and continues through graduation from high school and beyond.

Click play below to listen to National Public Radio's interview with Dr. Michael Carrera

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Richard Buery, Children's Aid President and CEO, Addresses the New York State Budget Agreement

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The New York State Legislature and the Governor reached an agreement late Wednesday night on the Fiscal Year 11-12 budget, where a $10 billion shortfall was closed by spending cuts in education and health and human services. Most of these cuts will have a profoundly negative effect on New York's most vulnerable citizens.

Despite attempts by certain members of the Legislature to cover part of the shortfall by extending the “Millionaires Tax” for individuals with the highest incomes, I am disappointed that the Governor and Legislature decided that increasing the overwhelming divide between the wealthiest families and those living in poverty was the best way to balance the budget.

These cuts will be compounded when the City passes its budget in the coming months. Mayor Bloomberg, who has been an outspoken critic of the State budget agreement, said, "Make no mistake: the final budget still cuts New York City more than ever before. The restorations are merely a fraction of the $600 million necessary to avoid additional layoffs and cuts in the City's budget."

As budgets at the federal, state and local levels are negotiated, programs that support low-income and disconnected youth have been disproportionately affected. The achievement gap between children in poverty and their peers is already far too wide – and the programs being cut are ones that have proven effective in narrowing the gap with regard to academics and lifelong outcomes, while also saving taxpayer dollars in the long term.

The negotiations did result in some limited restorations of critical programs, including the rejection of $91 million of proposed cuts to human service programs. The restoration will fund summer youth employment and home visiting programs, among others. In addition, the budget does not make cuts to core child welfare services.

The final budget also rejected the Governor’s proposal to create a Primary Prevention Incentive Program (PPIP) that would have collapsed and significantly cut funding for nine programs that help New York's most vulnerable children and families, such as after-school programs, which are distributed to counties or community-based agencies. However, only $8.7 million was restored of the nearly $50 million.

Even as we applaud the rejection of PPIP, the cuts of 50% to some of these programs will have a devastating impact on the lives of children and families. The Children's Aid Society's ability to provide high-quality expanded learning opportunities through after-school and summer programs will be profoundly impacted. Cutting these program dollars unfairly diminishes the opportunities for children to break the generational cycle of poverty.

Richard Buery
President and CEO
The Children's Aid Society

Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS

Students Learning Heart Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

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Above: Health Educators Anne Steinfeld and Julia Linesch (not pictured) from the Healthy Promotion Learning Lab, talk to teens about the harmful ingredients in cigarrettes.

In Washington Heights, an impoverished community in upper Manhattan, approximately 47% of children are overweight or obese. Thanks to a Community Impact Grant funded by the American Heart and American Stroke Associations, 11th graders at the City College Academy of the Arts, housed at the Salome Ureña de Henríquez Campus (SUCA) in Washington Heights, are participating in weekly healthy cooking and cardiovascular health education classes to become better equipped in the fight against this epidemic.

During weekly cooking classes, students learn about healthier alternatives to fast foods and create nutritious meals on their own that they can prepare at home. The cardiovascular health education classes bring these high school juniors face to face with the risks that come along with unhealthy eating and lack of exercise. They are also learning about the lifelong ill effects of cigarette smoking and how to avoid becoming influenced by the teen-targeted advertising by cigarette companies.

"We have to do this every year! The students love the cooking classes and most importantly, they are learning to cook healthy, delicious meals” said Burnedette Drysdale, Principal of the City College Academy of the Arts. “Also, the cardiovascular health classes are so informative and eye opening; the Children's Aid Society and American Heart Association are really helping the students to understand the importance of healthy living.”

Richard Buery, Children's Aid President and CEO, Responds to the Recent Indictment of Two Former ACS Staff

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I am deeply concerned by last week’s news of the criminal indictment of two former ACS child protective staff in connection with the horribly tragic death of four-year-old Marchella Pierce. There is no doubt that the allegations—failing to make home visits to a struggling family and falsifying case records—are very serious charges that deserve a strong response and meaningful consequences. Yet, treating these allegations as criminal is clearly unprecedented in New York. I worry about what impact doing so will have on New York City's ability to attract and retain talented staff to do the difficult and uncelebrated work of keeping New York City's most vulnerable children safe.

During the endless cycle of budget cuts these past few years, the Administration for Children's Services has seen its budget cut disproportionately when compared to the uniformed services. Make no mistake: although child protective workers do not wear uniforms, they are every bit as important to the safety of this City as New York City's bravest and finest. They do this work at great personal risk and for little pay. Ultimately, we must ensure that these indictments do not distract us from the need to reverse these systemic under-investments in the child welfare system. The children of our City will not be safe otherwise.

Ensuring the safety of the children we serve will remain at the forefront of The Children’s Aid Society’s work. Our hearts go out to Marchella.

Richard Buery
President and CEO
The Children's Aid Society

Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS

CAS Beverage Policy: Getting a Head Start on a Healthy Lifestyle

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The new CAS Beverage Policy is in full effect. Children in the Head Start program at P.S. 5, a Children’s Aid Community School, celebrated the policy by decorating their own special water cups. They even stacked the cups to resemble the food pyramid!

“We lined up at the best watering hole, NYC tap water faucets, and toasted to the new beverage policy with intentions to drink more water, less soda, cut 100% juice with water, and set the example for children and families” said Tamara M. Royal, Education Director at the P.S. 5 Head Start program.

During their recent “Family Day,” a juice bar was set up so that children, parents and staff could “cut” the juice with water themselves. A nutritionist also taught the group about the high sugar content in soda.

As of March 1st, all Children’s Aid staff and clients joined the fight against unhealthy eating by cutting their consumption of flavored milk, sodas and sports drinks. This is just another step in the agency’s overall mission to educate the communities we serve about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Cheers to drinking more water!