Tuesday, January 13, 2009
We are proud to share the “Agency of the Month” profile in the January 2009 issue of New York NonProfit Press featuring Jewish Child Care Association. This publication is considered the official trade paper providing value-based management information and proven practices for the nonprofit service sector in New York State. The article provides a comprehensive overview of JCCA and addresses the current critical climate in child welfare and mental health services as well as many of the budgetary issues facing the industry.
This article is a testament to the high standard of practice and commitment to the people we serve. We thank you all for your continued support and belief that every child deserves to grow up hopeful.
Chief Executive Officer
To download a PDF of this article please click here.
Jewish Child Care Association: Serving Those Most in Need
Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) can trace its history back almost two centuries to the earliest days of Jewish charity in New York City. In 1822, the Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded with $300 collected to care for an elderly Jewish veteran of the revolutionary war. Today, JCCA is a state-of-the-art, nonsectarian, human service provider with an $84 million annual budget and 900 employees. It provides extremely high quality residential treatment and foster care, community mental health services and other programming to more than 12,000 children and their families.
Interestingly, JCCA’s path to serving a largely non-Jewish, African-American and Hispanic client base in its child welfare and mental health programming can also be found in its Jewish heritage. It is tikkun olam — the responsibility of every person to make the world a better place — on which JCCA’s mission is based, explains Richard Altman, JCCA’s Chief Executive Officer.
"Our founders were committed to serving those most in need," says Altman. "And, just as in 1822, it is poverty that drives the need for our services — poverty that feeds domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and trauma. It is poverty and the problems which it creates that drive the organization today, just as they did in 1822. The difference is in who we serve today. We are still committed to serving those most in need."
JCCA’s programs are largely divided into three main areas — foster care and residential services, community mental health programs and services to the Jewish community.
Foster care and residential treatment services are the largest area of JCCA’s programming and the natural outgrowth of its historic development. In 1860, the Hebrew Benevolent Society opened the first Jewish orphanage in New York City. In 1884, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA), as the organization was then known, would go on to open another orphanage on 136th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan with a staggering capacity for 1,755 children. In 1925, a residential home for developmentally disabled teenage girls was opened on a 123-acre site in the Edenwald section of the Bronx.
Throughout this period, other Jewish child caring charities were also creating orphanages and residential programs. Prominent among these was the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society (HSGS) which opened the Pleasantville Cottage School (PCS) in Westchester County in 1912. It was in 1940, after years of discussion, that HOA, HSGS and other similar charities merged to form what would soon be known as Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA). In total, that newly created entity was then responsible for 3,471 children and 2,084 foster homes.
Today, JCCA’s child welfare programs include a full continuum of services, ranging from regular foster boarding homes to residential treatment, which are designed to meet the varying therapeutic needs of children in care.
The agency may be best known for its three highly regarded residential programs based on its 150-acre campus in Pleasantville in Westchester County.
JCCA serves the treatment needs of over 300 children in three specialized programs at its 150-acre campus in Pleasantville.
Pleasantville Cottage School (PCS) currently has a capacity to serve 173 youth who have been referred by New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), local DSSs and CSEs. Over the years, PCS has carved out a unique history in the field of residential treatment. It was reportedly the first "cottage style" residential center in which children lived in smaller cottages rather than large, institution-like orphanages — in the United States. "The model came from the English boarding schools and was seen as a more humane way to take care of children," says Altman. "The physical layout we have today, with the cottages placed around a central square and a central administration building, is exactly the same as it was in 1912."
PCS also was home to the first psychiatric clinic in an American child care institution, established in 1925 by psychiatric social worker Julia Goldman. This tradition of clinical excellence has been a hallmark of the agency ever since. "We have a rich clinical array of services that not every agency has," says Candace Tinagero, Senior Vice President, Foster Home and Residential Services. "We have psychiatrists and psychologists on staff. We have a large APA psychology internship program that recently was approved for an unprecedented additional nine years."
Edenwald Center serves 116 children who are dually diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and developmentally disabled. "Some of the youth are really low functioning. Some have brain damage," says Tinagero. The combination presents significant challenges for both the children and staff.
Pleasantville Diagnostic Center serves children up to the age of 16 who are referred for residential assessment and short-term treatment. The typical stay is 90 days or less. "The program does a really nice job of getting kids home to their family," says Tinagero. "Nearly half of the children are returned to their families or community-based foster care."
All three of JCCA’s residential programs have been and continue to be impacted by ACS policies designed to reduce both the number of children placed in residential treatment and the time they spend there.
"We have been downsizing for quite a while now," says Altman. PCS’s capacity used to be 25 beds higher than today’s 173. And the program is currently running 10-15 vacancies on average.
Both Altman and Tinagero give ACS Commissioner John Mattingly credit for the passion and thrust of his child welfare reform efforts, noting that many children who may not have needed long-term institutional placements are now living with families in the community.
"If there has been one overarching impact, it has been to get everyone focused on how we can work harder to keep kids in communities," says Altman. "I think people have been surprised. In general, this has worked."
Yet the JCCA team also has serious concerns. "We think that some children are not getting the services they need in this big-picture desire to reform the entire system," says Altman. The problems they cite are at both the front end of the system, when children are or are not referred to placement and at the back end when there is a shortage of community placements with a level of services to meet the extremely high needs of children going home.
Recent child welfare policies may have exacerbated long-standing problems created for some children who are only referred for residential placement after multiple failures to provide care in community-based foster boarding homes. "I agree with Commissioner Mattingly that residential treatment is not a healthy place to raise kids. But I do believe it is a really good place to get them back under control and to do some serious work, especially with families," says Tinagero. "I think our short-term program does some great, great work in that regard. However, most of the kids in our residential treatment program have burned through so many people in their lives. We have kids who have been in 15 different foster boarding homes."
JCCA works hard to address the special needs of these children. The agency is one of several throughout the state to be implementing the "Sanctuary" model of residential care, which focuses on recognizing the multiple traumas that children in care have sustained throughout their lives. "It has really begun to take hold and make a difference in the way our staff looks at youth and the youth look at themselves," says Tinagero. "Both youth and staff understand triggers a little better — why they are doing what they are doing — and how the trauma of the past has impacted them and their behavior today." JCCA is also one of a select few agencies implementing Sanctuary in its foster boarding home program.
In what may be a unique sign of respect for the children in its care, JCCA’s Youth Development Program has also trained youth to run their own Service Plan Reviews (SPRs). "It’s been amazing," says Tinagero.
"They are trained in what information needs to come out at the meeting; how to ask the questions they need to ask. And they do it. Can you imagine an adolescent running a meeting with his family, his workers and administrators all in the room? It is happening and it is phenomenal."
The agency has also incorporated youth into development of its policies and procedures. "The youth actually created the dress code policy for staff on campus. They are involved in interviewing potential staff. My goal is to have every child care worker candidate interviewed by the youth whose input will be part of the decision-making," says Tinagero. In addition, youth have been trained in crisis intervention techniques and the plan is to incorporate their perspective in future staff training.
"In addition to providing foster home care to more than 400 children, we probably have one of the largest Therapeutic Foster Boarding Home (TFBH) programs in the city with 96 children," says Altman.
TFBHs offer significantly higher levels of services than the regular FBH model, including lower social worker/child ratios, enhanced foster parent training and extensive clinical services.
"Our number one goal in TFBH is to find community resource placements for youth who may have spent years in residential care after multiple failed placements in lower levels of care," says Altman. "We’re saying you don’t have to live in an institution if there is someone out there for you. JCCA been very successful in finding viable, safe, community placements for these children."
JCCA was also one of seven agencies to be approved by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) for the initial round of Bridges to Health (B2H), an innovative new pilot program which offers supplementary supportive services to help high-needs foster care children live in a family setting.
"B2H is the most exciting program I have seen come down for foster children since I have been in the field," says Altman, who began his career as a social worker in 1970. "This has huge, huge potential." Based on a Home and Community-Based Services Waiver, B2H provides a menu of 14 services which agencies can offer, ranging from Day Habilitation, Prevocational Services and Supported Employment, through Immediate Crisis Response Services, Intensive In-home Supports, Crisis Respite and Special Needs Community Advocacy and Support. "They wrap the child in services," says Tinagero "It provides whatever the child needs to be successful. It’s wonderful."
"The really exciting thing is that the money follows the child, wherever the child goes, even if he or she goes home, up to age 21. That is unique," says Altman. Launched in January 2008, B2H was originally targeted to serve a total of 3,305 children statewide within three years. Many observers believed that B2H might actually be the safety net of services which would allow high-needs children currently in residential treatment centers to make a successful transition back to community-based family settings.
JCCA jumped in with both feet. "We took a chance and invested a lot of money up front to hire the staff so that we were in a position to enroll children and families," says Altman. "So, as of today, we have 87 children officially enrolled and receiving services."
Unfortunately, financial pressures on the State budget have recently forced Governor Paterson to call for a two-year moratorium on further rollout of the B2H program.
Another specialized program which JCCA launched more than ten years ago is its Sibling AOBH (Agency Operated Boarding Home). "ACS was having difficulty finding enough foster families for large sibling groups," says Altman. "We converted three apartments in a building in Rego Park, Queens. We built them out and hired foster parents to live there. We can take large sibling groups, sometimes as large as seven or eight children. We provide an assistant cook and child care counselors for relief. It is a very specialized program, designed to take kids who have been removed from their families in an emergency and keep them together."
JCCA also operates three group homes, serving a total of 22 children. Two utilize a traditional shift staffing model while the third uses a family model. "There is a mom and pop who live there. They are the house parents," says Altman.
Community Mental Health
In the mid 1980s, JCCA added community mental health services to its series of offerings through the opening of Brooklyn Child and Adolescent Guidance Center, the first new outpatient mental health clinic funded by the state in 10 years.
"That paved the way for the steady development of a whole array of mental health programs," says Altman. "We decided that we wanted to focus our services on central Brooklyn and today we have 14 different free standing mental health programs operating out of one central location in Flatbush."
In addition to its clinic, the agency provides a variety of case management programs typically home-based, each designed to meet the specialized needs of individual populations. "We have case management for children, for adolescents and for youth aging out of foster care. There are many variations on this theme," says Altman.
JCCA’s Community Mental Health and Preventive Services Division also houses the agency’s foster care prevention programs, with a capacity to serve 200 families with children at risk of out-of-home placement.
Looking ahead, Altman anticipates that community mental health programming will continue to be an area of growth for the agency.
Earlier this year, JCCA answered a call by State and City officials to take over a program about to be lost by the closing of Brooklyn CareWorks. Brooklyn Community Treatment Program provides in-home clinical services to severely emotionally disturbed (SED) youth who cannot access services in the community.
"We were also offered the opportunity by OMH to open a Children’s Community Residence (CCR) and we are getting ready to break ground," says Altman. "This will be our first OMH-licensed residential program." Barring any unforeseen problems resulting from the State’s budget crisis, he hopes to open the eight-bed facility in 18 months.
JCCA has long had a strong commitment to promoting education as an important means for children to become successful, productive adults.
Since 1971, Two Together has provided free individualized tutoring and mentoring services to students who are seriously behind in their schoolwork. Volunteer tutors help more than 130 school children (ages 8-18) annually.
In September, JCCA opened Brooklyn Democracy Academy (BDA), a transfer school in partnership with the Department of Education. The BDA model is adopted from the one developed by Sister Paulette LoMonaco and Good Shepherd Services. It integrates principles of the Sanctuary Model used on the Pleasantville Campus.
Now in its second year, Reading for Our Future, a one-on-one tutoring and educational enhancement program for youth in JCCA foster care programs, showed significant gains in both math and reading for the more than 100 students enrolled.
Services to the Jewish Community
In addition to providing child welfare and mental health services for all New Yorkers in need, JCCA has continued to offer a specialized group of programs that target the Jewish community.
Ametz Adoption Program provides assistance and support with private adoptions, both domestic and international, including homestudies, post-placement supervision, educational workshops, support groups and counseling.
JCCA also offers a large range of services for the Bukharian Jewish community in Forest Hills and Rego Park, Queens. This is a community of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union who experience the challenges and struggles typical of all new immigrant groups. Programs include day care, a teen lounge, tutoring and social services.
"We have more than 1,200 children in a home-based family day care program," says Altman. "And we have a privately-funded, center-based day care program for 52 children." JCCA’s Bukharian Teen Lounge provides a safe, positive afterschool alternative to the streets for more than 100 teens.
JCCA serves over 1,200 children through its home-based Family Day Care program in Queens.
JCCA’s Compass program provides a number of services for youth and their families with special needs, including those on the Autism spectrum. "The Compass Project is a very exciting program for young people on the Autism spectrum," says Altman. The program helps with the transition from high school to college. It is located on six campuses across Long Island and is expanding to Westchester in 2009. "While many of these young people can handle the academic demands, they have trouble socially and often drop out because of that problem," says Altman. "We provide support, counseling and guidance."
The current economic crisis and the continuing redesign of New York City’s child welfare system are likely to offer ongoing challenges for JCCA and most other service providers. Altman anticipates that referrals to generalized residential treatment centers will continue to decline in future years. At the same time, however, he anticipates growing recognition of the need to create specialized programs for unique populations.
One good example is the 12-bed Gateways program serving sexually exploited girls which JCCA is developing on the Pleasantville Campus in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, ACS, OCFS and Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS). "This is consistent with the recent Safe Harbor legislation that was passed," says Tinagero. "These young girls are victims, not criminals."
No matter what the future holds, one thing is certain. There will always be people who are most in need. Those are the people JCCA was created to help.