The Children's Aid Blog

The Children’s Aid Society 6th Annual Youth Speak Out

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Energetic youth brought down the house on Thursday, April 1st at the 6th Annual Youth Speak Out on Education, presented by The Children’s Aid Society and The Audrey Miller Poritzky Education Fund for Children. Approximately 150 teens from Children’s Aid community centers and schools came together in a beautiful space provided by New York University.

This year, students decided to concentrate on homelessness, the foster care system and effects on academic success. The students’ research was presented in various PowerPoint presentations and skits. The highlight for me was the Q & A between City Council members and the students which was moderated by James Ford, lead reporter from “PIX Morning News” of WPIX. The students challenged the panel with interesting questions about budget cuts and charter schools. Also present to tackle some questions was New York City Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who has attended the conference every year. “We work very hard to not penalize homeless youth,” said the Deputy Mayor, in response to students who are struggling to complete a high school education because of homelessness or their records not following them through the foster care system. “We, the system, should not contribute to kids missing school.” I had a seat near Deputy Mayor Walcott and was happy to notice his undivided attention was focused on Children’s Aid.

To tie up the conference, The Audrey Miller Poritzky Education Fund for Children presented three high school seniors with scholarships. On hand to help hand out the awards were Dr. Laurence Miller and his granddaughter Sophie.

Get Off the Couch and Into the Kitchen!

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If you haven’t made your personal resolution to better health yet, I’ve got a good idea for you: Cook. Preparing food in your own home with your own two hands is one of the healthiest steps you can take this year. You’ve surely heard of the saying “you are what you eat.” Well, when you cook for yourself, you know what you eat. And that’s more than halfway to health.

Consider this point, from a brilliant article in the Times called Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch: “Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia [Child] arrived on our television screens. It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star.”

What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.”

I suppose that would all be fine….except that as cooking has become a spectator sport, Americans’ weight has skyrocketed. Today, two out of every three American adults are overweight.

So, let’s make this easy. Cooking is not rocket science, and it can even (shock!) be fun — put on a little music, pour yourself a beverage of choice, smell the garlic sautéing, and suddenly it’s the best part of your day. To feed yourself and your family a simple and wholesome dinner takes all of 30 minutes once you’ve got a few basic skills.

How do you acquire these skills? By cooking! Afraid you’ll mess up? Do like Julia Child. On one show, she flipped a potato pancake and spilled half of it on the stovetop. She didn’t cry about it, she picked it up, threw it back in the pan and kept going.  Real cooking is not what happens on TV in the glossy kitchens with fancy machines whipping cream into perfect peaks. It’s what happens in yours, with the oven door that doesn’t close all the way and the chipped orange bowls you inherited from grandma. Cooking is imperfect, and that’s my favorite part about it.

Below is a recipe for lentil soup that can’t go wrong and takes only 10 minutes of active prep. Serve with whole grain bread and a salad for a cheap, warm and nourishing winter meal. For you cheaters out there, please note: if you use store-bought dressing on your salad, it doesn’t count as cooking! Try our vinaigrette, recipe below, which takes a whopping one minute to make.

Lentil Soup

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 large carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 cup dry lentils

1, 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes

1 bunch (about 10-12 ounces) fresh spinach well rinsed and roughly chopped (or substitute 10 ounces of frozen spinach)

Juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

A handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Optional: freshly grated Parmigiano cheese

  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté together onion, carrots and celery for about five minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, lentils, and a pinch of salt and pepper and continue sautéing for 2-3 minutes more, stirring constantly.
  3. Add 6 cups of water and another pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 35-40 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are very tender. Check soup every 15 minutes or so to make sure lentils and vegetables are covered with liquid the whole time. If necessary, add more water ½ cup at a time.
  4. Add spinach to the pot and stir it in until it wilts completely—about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Add lemon to taste and parsley. Adjust seasonings and turn off heat.
  6. Serve hot accompanied by whole grain bread, and if you wish, freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Yield: about 1/3 cup


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon mustard

Pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake vigorously until it is well blended. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Dress your salad, and store remaining vinaigrette in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Note: If left to sit, the oil and vinegar will separate—that’s fine. To bring them back together, just whisk or, if in a jar, shake.

We’d love to hear your stories and suggestions—post them here.

Happy Cooking!

Stefania Patinella
Director of Food and Nutrition Programs
The Children’s Aid Society

2010 Children’s Aid Youth Council “Make a Change” Conference

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Speak to a member of The Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Youth Council and you will quickly realize the importance of youth voice in the Bronx and Washington Heights communities.

At the “Make a Change” Conference on Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Animal Cruelty on Tuesday, April 6th, the young people showed they have a lot to say about what they want to change in their communities. They are aware of the problems and are mobilized to create a positive change.

The conference was attended by approximately 100 students and included youth-facilitated workshops on the three topics.

The conference also offered parent workshops on “navigating the teen years” and helping children develop healthy relationships.

The students organized an information fair for attendees, with booths from The Children’s Aid Society Family Wellness and Foster Care Programs, the Mental Health Association, the Census and a youth created petition to fight city budget cuts affecting young people. The conference included dynamic Public Service Announcements directed and acted out by the youth council members, providing their perspective on domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty.

The “Make a Change” Conference was educational, empowering and entertaining. Mostly, it was a tribute to what is possible when you help young people take the lead.

Stacy Campo Director, Youth Development Photos by Lily Kesselman for The Children’s Aid Society

Children’s Aid’s Teen Space; Foster Care ServicesTo Engage The Next Step

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The Children’s Aid Society has an extraordinary history of helping foster youth, going back to our beginnings in the mid 19th century’s Orphan Trains, started by our founder Charles Loring Brace.

Believing that children deserve to grow up with a good education, accessible health care and an opportunity to thrive, Brace was on the front lines of foster care reform and advocacy. The success of Children's Aid initiatives helped lead to national child welfare reforms, including child labor laws, adoption and foster care services, health care and vocational training.

Today, thanks to Teen Space, a newly built drop-in center for foster youth, ages 13-21, Children’s Aid remains at the forefront of supporting disadvantaged youth in New York City. Teen Space is an oasis, a place where youth learn to become an integral part of mapping their own future, helping themselves grow to be self sustaining adults. Teen Space encourages foster teens to not only learn about opportunities and challenges, but to embrace them. By understanding and meeting these challenges, the youths take responsibility for their future as they prepare for their permanency course of action, when they leave foster care, are adopted, or are returned to their biological parent(s).

There is much to learn when foster youth age out of programs; Teen Space provides counselors, informational/recreational tools, books, test preparation materials and internet access. Additionally Children’s Aid’s Know Your Rights pamphlets provide answers on education, family, consumer rights, housing, and a score of other important issues.  You can join us at the Children’s Aid Society in making a difference in a child’s life as a foster child, and their life beyond.

Children's Aid Youth Councils Prepare for their Annual "Make A Change" Conference

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If you visit a Children’s Aid Community Middle School in the next two weeks you will hear the din of young people engaged in community organizing and youth leadership. The CAS Youth Councils from SU Campus, Mirabal Sisters Campus, CIS 166, IS 98 and Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School are preparing for their annual conference. Every year students join together to bring attention to the issues they are seeing and experiencing in their community. This year they are focusing their advocacy efforts on child abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty.

“We want to address how abuse affects everyone in the family, including the dog,” said youth developer and former youth council member, Dezirae Alamo.

Since the students identified the conference topic in December, the Youth Councils have been meeting two to three times a week to prepare workshops, research policy, meet with mental health professionals, invite guest speakers and create information flyers relating to these important issues. As a youth led conference, the students will be greeting the guests, doling out the lunch and facilitating the workshops. The “Make A Change” Conference will also offer workshops for parents, facilitated by Children's Aid Foster Care and Family Wellness Program. The conference was held on Tuesday, April 6th at CIS 166 located at 250 E 164th St from 10:30 AM till 3:30 PM. The Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Youth Council Conference is open to community residents; please register by calling Stacey Campo at 718-378-2871 or emailing

Stacey Campo
Director, Youth Development

Report On School Absenteeism: Early Intervention Is Key To Academic Success

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Regular attendance in school is crucial to a child’s ability to learn, grow and thrive. It forms the foundation for further academic and social development. This is why chronic absenteeism in school needs to be addressed from the very beginning – kindergarten. Studies released by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) highlight the adverse affect of chronic early school absence, most notably in the child’s diminished educational progress in the primary grades.

In a September 2008 report from NCCP, Present, Engaged, and Accounted For, researchers Hedy Chang and Mariajosé Romero conclude that low income children with the highest rates of absenteeism in kindergarten ranked at the bottom of the their class academically in future years. Further, the report finds a link between chronic absence in students’ early years and a number of negative outcomes later in life – including truancy, delinquency, substance abuse and dropping out of high school. School absenteeism has a far-reaching impact on a child’s academic progress and future.


Images Courtesy of

So what are the contributing factors to chronic absenteeism? Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absence in the United States. Also impacting attendance are important socio-economic factors, such as low income, troubled and unstable family life, behavioral problems and cultural adaptation issues.  A strong partnership between the community, families, teachers and counselors can make the difference in the lives of children by providing strategies to address the problem of chronic absenteeism.

“Chronic early absenteeism represents a pernicious and hidden problem. Young children who miss a lot of school are headed down a road of great disadvantage, especially if they fall behind their peers on the critical task of learning how to read” says Jane Quinn, Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools at The Children’s Aid Society. “Fortunately, by shining a light on this problem, schools can join forces with community partners who can help them address the root causes of chronic absenteeism in the early grades—most likely health or family problems.”

Chang and Romero urge that school districts look at the attendance patterns of individual students to assess the extent to which chronic absence is a problem in schools.  The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School conducted such an analysis of NYC’s attendance data in 2007-2008 and found that one in five students in grades K to 5 were chronically absent.  In New York’s poorest neighborhoods, the rate was as high as one in every three students.  The New School report concludes that community schools – schools that organize and integrate community resources into the core instructional program – are well-positioned to not only identify students who are at risk of being chronically absent but also respond to their multi-faceted needs.

“Community schools” are lauded nationwide as a method for integrating social services, health care and other supports into the public education system. They rely on formidable partnerships between public school principals and the leadership of community-based nonprofits, such as the Children’s Aid Society in New York.

Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families, Center for New York City Affairs, The New School

Children’s Aid Nurses Donate Their Time in Haiti

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How important are vacation days to you? Think about it. You work hard and look forward to your time off, to kick back and relax. Now imagine giving up your vacation time to work under very difficult conditions. On Monday, March 29th, three nurses from Children’s Aid’s Medical Foster Care team traveled to Haiti to provide nursing care and humanitarian aid to the people who have been devastated by the recent earthquakes. The nurses, Geralde Sully, Ixleine Dufrene (both of whom are Haitian) and Olabisi Olowoyo are donating eight vacation days for this mission. They have set up a Tent Clinic in Thomonde where they will triage patients and provide first aid care. They will have to work with the sunlight, unless there is a generator to provide additional light during the evening. It is truly an admirable act for these women to sacrifice their hard earned vacation time to extend their services to the people of Haiti. “The nurses in the Medical Foster Care program are challenged daily with the provision of health coordination and maintenance of health, through triage, education, assessments and support, for some of NYC's most fragile children” said Sonya Maxwell, Nursing Supervisor, Medical Foster Care Program at Children’s Aid. Maxwell Continued,“When nurses like Ixleine Dufrene, Olabisi Olowoyo,and Geralde Sully, all nurses who are passionate about their work with our population of children, decide to do something extraordinary and extend that passion beyond the borders of the U.S., it makes me very proud to be in the company of individuals whose care and commitment for humankind comes from the heart and soul.”

With a Front-Row View of Poverty, She Needed Help

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The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund recently featured this Children’s Aid story by Jennifer Mascia about Yolanda Clinkscales balancing a full-time job and motherhood and still needing help. Below is an excerpt from the original article:

Shaquille White and trophies, at home in Manhattan. His mother, Yolanda Clinkscales, received assistance paying off a large Con Ed balance when surgery forced her to take time off work.

For more than half her life, Yolanda Clinkscales has balanced a full-time job with the demands of motherhood, and in all that time she has never needed a handout.

A longtime employee of the city’s Department of Homeless Services, Ms. Clinkscales, 45, already knew how easily a person could slip into poverty. Then it happened to her.

When she needed surgery and quickly used all of her sick days, she had to take an unpaid six-week leave and found herself in the uncomfortable position of asking for money. Though she earns $2,126 a month as a clerical associate — one of dozens of positions she said she has held at the department — she quickly fell behind on rent. She pays $774 for the subsidized two-bedroom Hamilton Heights apartment she shares with her son Shaquille White, 12, just seven blocks from where she grew up.

An aunt stepped in and lent her $2,000 for back rent — “She’s letting me pay her back $200 a month,” Ms. Clinkscales said — but there was still the matter of a $609.31 Con Edison bill.

In April she approached the Carrera Program, an adolescent outreach program at Shaquille’s charter school that has formed a partnership with the Children’s Aid Society, one of the seven beneficiary agencies of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Within days she received a $100 voucher for groceries from Pathmark; two weeks later the agency paid her electric bill.

When asked whether it was difficult to ask an outsider for financial help, she nodded solemnly.

“Sometimes you have to put your pride aside,” she said.

Though she is still hindered by sciatica, bursitis and a herniated disc, ailments that forced her to take another unpaid week in June, Ms. Clinkscales regularly tends to a gaggle of nephews and grandchildren, who treat her apartment as their local headquarters. On any given afternoon she will come home from work to find rambunctious pint-size relatives scampering in and out of her living room.

“My sister lives on the sixth floor, and my mom lives on the fifth floor,” she said in gravelly tones as she bounced her 21-month-old grandson, Misoun, on her knee, her eyes sparkling. He climbed off her lap and began stomping repeatedly on one of her sofa pillows. “They use my son’s room as a playroom,” she said of her grandson and his cousins.

Though Shaquille’s bedroom — with its bunk beds, sky-blue walls and posters of Bow Wow and Shaquille O’Neal, after whom he was named — is the main draw for his cousins, the centerpiece of Ms. Clinkscales’s tastefully decorated living room is Shaquille’s collection of trophies, some three dozen in all, dating from age 6 and commemorating victories in football, baseball and basketball. Half a dozen medals are slung around the trophies, and plaques line the wall.

Read full article…

To learn how you can make a difference for this family and many others, please link over to The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund or contact:

The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund
230 West 41st Street
Suite 1300
New York, NY 10036
(800) 381-0075

Photo courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

Children’s Aid Fights for Children’s Support from Both Parents

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One of the most effective ways of raising the standard of living for children in New York City is by insuring that they receive adequate financial support from both of their parents. The Children’s Aid Society offers advice and assistance to parents who are seeking court-ordered agreements, relating to the financial and medical support of their children.

In New York State, the Family Court presides over matters relating to child support; Children’s Aid offers assistance to those who need to go to court to obtain child support. Brochures and information available from Children’s Aid helps educate families about who is responsible for paying child support, how to obtain a court-ordered child support agreement and what services are provided by the City’s Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).

OCSE services include: determining the location of the non-custodial parent, a summons service, assistance with establishment of paternity, child support, medical support orders, and collection and enforcement of those orders.

By law, both parents are responsible for the support of their children, even if the parents are not married to each other, or are minors. There are, of course, times when a parent cannot afford to make monthly payments, particularly in these difficult economic times. In certain situations, courts are able to order modifications of support orders.

For all parents, custodial and non-custodial, information about their rights and about the Family Court system is of utmost importance. Fortunately, The Children’s Aid Society is helping to educate those parents … and in turn is helping New York’s children attain a more just standard of living.

Fashions that Look Good and are Good for the Earth!

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The 9th Annual Children’s Art Show at the National Arts Club in New York City provided a real feast for the eyes of everyone who packed the opening:  186 artworks by 200 young artists (ages 3 – 18) in every conceivable medium: oils, watercolors, photography, pencil, wood, plaster, clay, chalk, cardboard, paper, and this year, dominoes (creating a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.!).

The proud parents, young artists, Children’s Aid Society staff, Board members and guests who attended the reception on Wednesday, February 24 were in for a treat: a show of eco-fashions – dresses created from recyclable materials including MetroCards, newspapers, plastic trash bags and recycled fabric. They’re great dresses: slinky cocktail outfits created and modeled by members of the Eco-Fashion and Green Design Club of M.S. 324 at the Mirabal Sisters Campus, a Children’s Aid community school located in Washington Heights.

One dress was said to contain 1,000 MetroCards. Another comprised dozens of copies of the New York Post folded into a retro beauty of a dress. The students have focused on these outfits since September 2009. They are the product of design, and collaborative stapling, pinning, measuring and gluing, all under the guidance of club director Crystal Chaparro, herself a visual artist and vegetarian caterer who promotes green values, natural living and sustainability.

“Crystal has created an open and nurturing space where all students have the opportunity to shine,” says Marinieves Alba, community school director at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. And at their fashion show, these students were beaming with the confidence and self esteem that are boosted when the arts are integrated into the school day and blossom in the minds and hearts of young people. Photo by  Lily Kesselman