Developmental Disabilities Day Hab

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

The Foundling’s Day Habilitation programs for people with developmental disabilities are based in the community and give participants an opportunity to connect with others through social, volunteer, and work-related activities. Such personalized activities help participants experience new things, get to know their likes and dislikes, and create rich experiences shaped by their preferences. These programs are offered to people living both in the community and in Foundling residences across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding counties.


Our dedicated Day Habilitation staff continues to provide meaningful engagement and support to individuals with developmental disabilities both in and out of The Foundling’s residences.

For people living with developmental disabilities, confinement can quickly become a serious emotional burden. That’s why our Day Habilitation Specialists continue to provide meaningful daily services and programs, despite the limitations of social distancing. Instead of picking participants up and bringing them to program or classroom sites as they normally would, staff members have now donned their personal protective gear and signed on to their laptops to bring the programs to them.

For about eight hours each day, Monday through Friday, Day Habilitation Specialists are spending in-person time with program participants living in Foundling group residences, keeping their spirits up while guiding them through various academic and social activities to keep their minds occupied and engaged.

As much as possible, staff and participants are maintaining six feet of distance from each other. In cases where individuals are focusing on building their fine motor skills, like handwashing, staff are wearing masks and gloves to protect themselves and our clients as they complete the tasks at hand.

For program participants living at home, however, Day Habilitation staff like Monee Smith are forced to stay in touch by phone. “We’d do basic math skills over the phone or work on vocabulary,” Monee says.

Recently, she’s been transitioning participants to live video chatting. While technology accessibility was an issue for many at the beginning of the outbreak, The Foundling’s programs have worked to distribute tablets, Monee says.

The plan is to hold two-hour sessions with each group of participants every day. “Some will be able to join the sessions on their own, but for those that need help, a parent, guardian, or in-house staff member will help them log on.”

The ability to share screens, show videos, and see familiar faces makes the day’s lessons and activities so much more engaging. “And it’s teaching them how to use modern technology,” explains Monee.

“We want to make sure that those who don’t live in our residences are not forgotten,” said Ashley Gibbs, Coordinator for The Foundling’s Day Habilitation Services, highlighting the importance of engaging with home participants.

Whether staff meet participants in-person or virtually, many of the day-to-day activities remain the same – and there have been some special surprises as well. When our programs shifted the delivery of services from community-based to home-based, all participants received personalized care packages with materials like worksheets, crayons, and construction paper. Some participants work on their math, writing, and reading skills, while others are guided through sensory and motor skill-building activities. Additionally, there’s also time allocated during the day for puzzles, games, art, and crafting projects like Mother’s Day cards.

Unfortunately, staff can no longer take participants on recreational field trips. Steven Moore used to take his group to the beach or the pier for fishing. Stephanie Tauly took her group to the movies every Tuesday.

But staff have been creative in finding special ways for participants to feel engaged. Movie day still happens, only now through streaming services. YouTube videos guide groups through stretches, yoga poses, and simple exercises. And others have taken virtual museum tours together.

Program participants often like routines, and COVID-19 has unfortunately disrupted them. “I try to redirect them when they are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or frustrated,” Monee relates, “They miss peer-to-peer contact, going outside, going on trips, socializing, just being out and about.”

“I find ways to keep them productive. When they’re inside their homes, they get very comfortable and sometimes lose focus,” KiAndre Caldwell, a Day Habilitation Specialist in the Bronx, says. “When that happens, I give them an activity to do that teaches them something new. Or we’ll stop and talk about what they’re feeling, what’s going on in their lives, and what they want to do instead.”

Seeing participants in their homes has some upsides. “We get to know them better. We see them cook, clean, do laundry, use the buses and trains to go to the store, and other things that demonstrate their level of independence that we otherwise may never have seen,” KiAndre notes, adding that everyone exercises utmost safety. “Whenever we go out, they’ll grab their gloves and masks. They know how far away to walk from other people, when to wash their hands and for how long—it’s a new routine.”

Despite the many struggles and challenges the pandemic has wrought, our Day Habilitation Specialists are thankful to be able to continue working with the people in their care. “They’ve become my family, too,” says Odessa Forde, a Day Habilitation Specialist in Brooklyn.

“Our staff has been doing a wonderful job working through this difficult time,” Ashley Gibbs expresses. “I’m proud of how creative they’ve been to overcome the many challenges this pandemic has thrown our way.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit ouremergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength. 

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

In recognition of National Foster Care Month in May, we are pleased to share updates from our foster care programs. The Foundling’s foster care programs serve over 1,000 young people, from newborns to young adults, every year. Recognizing the trauma and risks associated with family separation, as well as the abuse and maltreatment that lead to it, our programs are specially designed to support families through challenging times. In cases where more extensive support is needed, specialized foster care programming helps address significant behavioral or mental health concerns.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, The Foundling’s foster care staff are working with families and children to address serious challenges to wellbeing while also facing their own personal struggles. Despite the difficulties, they have not only managed to continue providing essential support, but have also worked tirelessly to adapt their work and support to be effective within our current situation.


It’s no secret that family separation is a harrowing experience. For many young people in foster care, separation causes serious trauma, in turn causing anxiety and depression. Stressful situations, like stay at-home isolation, can easily trigger those symptoms.

“I tell them it’s okay to feel this way,” says Maria Lubina Qadeer, a sociotherapist in our Treatment Family Foster Care (TFFC) Program, “but to focus our energy on what we have control over and not what we don’t have control over.”

With stay at home orders keeping New Yorkers isolated in their homes, the support that Maria and other foster care staff provide to families is critical now more than ever. Many young people in foster care are dealing with incredibly difficult emotions on top of existing challenges. Some have withdrawn, are eating less and have isolated themselves in their rooms; others have acted out by disobeying stay at home orders.

“My role overall is to make sure the child is thriving in their home. If they are not, I try to support them with different interventions.”

To that end, Maria and her team have added daily check-ins, in addition to normal weekly check-ins, for more extensive support. This time ensures that families aren’t displaying COVID-19 symptoms and have access to necessities, while also providing more regular emotional support.

“The current sessions, in light of COVID-19, are foremost about ‘how are you feeling and managing today?’ Living in isolation, this additional social emotional support is what they need,” Maria explains.

“It may be harder to get the children to describe difficult emotions by phone or video conference… we are working harder to keep those relationships strong so we can help them work through whatever they’re feeling.”

Simultaneously, one of the greatest challenges facing our families and staff is the loss of foster parent lives to COVID-19. Due to various socioeconomic factors, foster parents – especially those who are relatives of the young people in foster care – generally tend to be older, and may suffer from pre-existing conditions. As a result, many fall into the virus’s most at-risk populations.

“The foster parent losses have been tragic,” Elizabeth Wright, Vice President of Family Foster Care mourns, “especially because we can’t express sympathy in the usual ways we would.” To compound this, many foster care staff have suffered tremendous losses of their own family and friends. “They go from those difficult situations at home to more difficult situations at work,” Elizabeth says, “That weighs on me, and certainly it weighs on my team.”

Nonetheless, foster care staff have rallied to support each other in order to continue supporting the families. “I’ve been amazed by their ongoing, overwhelming commitment and dedication,” Elizabeth adds, “It’s made me feel really proud.”

Maria feels the love and support on her own team: “[We are] good at utilizing each other for processing the different situations that occur with our families and youth. The most important thing during difficult times like these is being a part of a communicative team.”

Meanwhile, foster parents and birth parents alike have remained understanding and supportive as they work with staff to push through together. The Foundling’s staff have been able to continue frequent family visitation virtually, keeping birth parents in touch with their children through the crisis. Though visitation with young children and babies has been more challenging, foster parents have risen to the occasion by sending regular photos and videos to birth parents in lieu of in-person visitation.

“In the beginning there was a lot of uneasiness around how much support we would get, but there has been clear support,” Elizabeth says, explaining that the system is adapting to meet the current needs. While permanency placement had been made difficult with temporary closure of family courts, the system has started to go virtual.

The capacity is seriously limited, however, and in the interim The Foundling has pushed to review cases where extended visitation and trial discharge had already been granted. This has helped reunite youth with their birth parents sooner than originally anticipated, bringing families back together in this difficult time.

There is still work to be done and more challenges lie ahead, but Elizabeth is optimistic about things to come. “System-wide it’s been really collaborative… [it’s] been really encouraging and hopeful.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Supportive Housing

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

The Foundling’s Supportive Housing Program helps young people aging out of foster care or at risk of homelessness as they learn to care for themselves and build a network critical to their lifelong success. Our Supportive Housing Program operates in Brooklyn and provides personalized support to residents, including counseling and connections to education and employment. Although COVID-19 has changed the landscape, the program’s dedicated specialists and case planners continue to help young people locate resources that provide basic living necessities, educational opportunities, job prospects, and more.


On a regular day, Anthony Beamon Jr. helps young adults apply for jobs and locate educational programs that can prepare them for future success. He edits resumes, assists with budgeting their expenses, points them toward funding sources when necessary, and coaches them toward achieving their goals. “I still do those things, but now it’s all done electronically instead of face-to-face.”

Anthony is an Educational/Vocational Specialist for The New York Foundling’s Supportive Housing Program, which provides housing and social support to 18-26-year-olds who have aged out of foster care or who have experienced homelessness. The program does more than make sure these young people have somewhere to live: it fosters responsibility and paves a path towards independence by enhancing each person’s educational and employment opportunities.

Right now, the future feels especially uncertain for some of these young people. Those who were enrolled in classes or working non-essential jobs pre-COVID-19 feel the virus has been a tremendous impediment to the progress they’d made. “It took the wind right out of their sails,” Anthony said. “But instead of focusing on what’s not available right now, we’re looking at what opportunities this situation creates.”

“I’ve been connecting residents with essential work opportunities. Places like supermarkets, pharmacies, and clinics are all hiring,” Anthony said. “As for educational opportunities, it’s a matter of helping them find programs that have made the shift to online courses and have adapted well.”

Anthony reminds program participants that anxiety over COVID-19 is affecting the whole world and that none of this upheaval is their fault. This can be challenging for young people who have experienced so much upheaval in their lives already. Simultaneously the program works to connect residents with community partners and a coach to ensure they are matched with personalized services based on their individual needs. “If a participant informs us they are running low on benefits [like food assistance], toilet paper, or other resources, I, along with their assigned coach, help them locate resources like a nearby food pantry,” said Anthony. “Community-based services are still open.”

Keeping the program’s participants motivated, empowered, and uplifted during these tumultuous times is our team’s primary goal. Former in-person meetings held on a bi-weekly basis with residents are now conducted electronically and more frequently. “I regularly check-in and let them know that I am there whenever they need me,” Anthony said. “This virus requires us to take things a step further. To be readily available to the young people who need us.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

CAPP

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series will share how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

Over the course of 34 years, The New York Founding’s Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP) has taught nearly 600,000 children in New York City how to recognize, resist, and report abuse. CAPP partners with hundreds of New York City elementary schools each year to present its Child Safety Workshop, which uses life-size puppets in skits to educate children about their right to safety. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of city schools, CAPP has been unable to present their workshops. Students in our programs abruptly had to adjust to social distancing, online learning, and other disruptions to their daily routines. Knowing this, The Foundling’s programs sprang into action to help the young people we serve stay connected, feel safe, and know they are supported outside of the classroom walls.


The closure of schools across New York has caused considerable stress and anxiety in many communities. While families are concerned their children may disconnect socially or fall behind academically, there are several additional dangers presented by the switch to remote learning.

“We really rely on schools, as a community, to have eyes on kids,” Marion White, CAPP’s director, explained, “To see them on a daily basis and see that they’re present, that they don’t have any bruises.” Over the years, CAPP has helped schools serve this function – offering the opportunity for children to express concerns to a trusted adult and state-mandated reporter. At the same time, CAPP’s puppet-centered performance provides children with an age-appropriate way to understand abuse and maltreatment.

As schools continue to remain closed, educators and child welfare experts alike have expressed concern about the increased risk of sustained child abuse and maltreatment during this time. Families are increasingly socially isolated, some without access to food, stable income, even shelter. As stress rises, healthy parenting may encounter obstacles, and children won’t have easy access to support resources.

“One of the greatest fears with remote learning is that students in New York City will have fewer opportunities to speak up and ask a trusted adult for help,” Marion noted. “In the first three weeks since schools closed city-wide, the number of reports made to the New York State Central Register have decreased by nearly two-thirds,” indicating the decrease in contact between children and state-mandated reporters.

“You forget how much schools are a center point for the community. To not have that feels like a loss of control,” Trevor Raushi, CAPP’s program coordinator expressed. “CAPP is one of the only programs in the city that provides the opportunity for children to speak directly to an adult [about possible abuse]. We’re really trying to find a way to replicate that support model remotely.”

To do so, CAPP has developed a plan of action that includes providing educators with informational materials, offering virtual Positive Parenting Workshops, and reaching out directly to children through educational activities. The hope is that this approach will continue to inform children about their right to safety, while also addressing factors that may cause child abuse or maltreatment in the first place.

“We’re addressing the same mission as always: to protect children,” Marion said.

CAPP’s first step was to provide online safety tools for families and students as schools transitioned into remote learning. With school occurring remotely, children are accessing the internet more than ever, putting them at risk of coming into contact with online predators.

“The goal here is to lock some of the doors before they can get in,” Trevor explained.

With that in mind, the team created resources for parents and caregivers that detailed simple instructions to keep children safe online, whether on social media or gaming platforms. Additionally, CAPP provided suggestions for alternative educational platforms, along with resources to help families cope with anxiety and manage stress.

CAPP distributed the documents to partner schools at the end of March, and so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“This is amazing,” one guidance counselor wrote, “Thank you all for putting this together in such an easily usable way. We are drowning in tasks and tech. You all just made my day!”

“Thank you so much,” another replied, “We posted it to our School Story on ClassDojo so it reached about 650 school members including parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, staff, and [administration].”

Moving forward, CAPP plans to create short video skits using the same puppets featured in the Child Safety Workshop to deliver educational messages online. Employing similar language and themes as Child Safety Workshop, CAPP hopes these video skits will remind students that even though they may not see their school teacher or counselor in person, they should still look to them for help when they feel unsafe.

CAPP is also collaborating with Safe Horizon Child Advocacy Centers, Prevent Child Abuse New York, The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and the Department of Education to identify further ways to protect children in this critical time. With the situation evolving and changing quickly, the team is working hard to address urgent needs as they emerge.


You can access a full library of CAPP’s resources here. To learn more about how CAPP and The New York Foundling are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the front lines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series will share how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

The Foundling launched Haven Academy to respond to the unique educational needs of children involved in foster care or whose families are involved in the child welfare system. The school utilizes a specialized trauma-sensitive curriculum that is helping to close the achievement gap for child welfare-involved youth. Although COVID-19 means that scholars cannot attend Haven Academy in person, its dedicated teachers and staff continue to providing meaningful engagement and support for the school’s community of families.


Work for Lauren Katzenstein used to mean commuting from her home in Queens to Mott Haven in the Bronx. Now it means getting out of bed. “My room has become everything from where I sleep, to where I work.”

Lauren is a social worker at The Foundling’s Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the Bronx, a Pre-K through 8th grade charter school serving one of the country’s poorest congressional districts.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, Haven Academy faced a remarkable challenge: continuing to support their students’ education while dispersed in a community that lacked basic internet access, food security, and – in some cases – even shelter. “This all happened so fast there wasn’t time to prepare,” Lauren explains, “this is trauma for a lot of people.”

The obstacles didn’t stop Haven Academy from mobilizing, not only to keep their students on track academically, but also to support the local community.

When the crisis hit, Haven Academy opened their cafeteria to provide over 280 hot, chef-prepared takeout meals a day, prepared for and distributed to the community with utmost hygiene and sanitation. From there, the staff began working directly with families to ensure long-term food stability.

Lauren noted that beyond the staff, the families of Haven Academy have gone to incredible lengths to support one another: providing food and meals to one another, offering emotional support, and more. “The sense of community has been awesome.”

Meanwhile, partners helped secure hundreds of Google Chromebooks and mobile hotspots to distribute amongst their students, ensuring every child stays connected with the school community. Jardy Santana, one of Haven Academy’s teachers, made clear: “We want to make sure that we’re there academically and emotionally.”

To that end, the staff of Haven Academy have built daily schedules that engage the students with teachers, social workers, and each other as much as possible. Each student has a single point-of-contact they check-in with once a day, and staff make themselves available by phone, text, and video call as much as possible. “We want to maintain a sense of normalcy,” Lauren added.

Despite the changes, the students have so far been engaged – perhaps even more so than in the classroom, according to Jardy. “They seem really excited about having this novel experience… they really like having their work through technology.”

Jardy noted that students have actually participated more and have been more responsive to feedback. Looking forward through the end of the crisis, she thinks incorporating more technology into the classroom could help bolster learning. “As an educator, I’m seeing all new ways of using technology in the classroom that I hadn’t thought about.”

Some challenges still remain, and both Lauren and Jardy noted that some families are struggling. “We’ve had a few separate mental health crises so far,” Lauren confided, “but everyone is working together to figure it out.”

It hasn’t been easy for the staff, either. “It’s been really challenging each day,” Jardy expressed, “Each day I have this moment of panic and uncertainty, of feeling like ‘oh my goodness when does this end?’ But those moments have been more and more infrequent. We’re doing the best we can, and parents have been really responsive and supportive.”

Lauren echoed that it’s been difficult “balancing [her] feelings and holding space for the feelings for everyone.” But the balancing act is just another challenge to overcome: “Seeing the sense of community has kept me and others on the frontline motivated and ready to push through obstacles.”


To learn more about how Mott Haven Academy Charter School and The New York Foundling are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.