This spring, NYC’s Administration for Children’s Services will open Family Enrichment Centers (FECs) in three neighborhoods with high child welfare involvement—Highbridge and Hunt’s Point in the Bronx and East New York, Brooklyn—run by Good Shepherd Services, Graham Windham, and the Bridgebuilders Community Partnership. Each site will have a director, two parent advocates, and a community liaison.
Jacqueline Martin, Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Preventive Services, and Kailey Burger, Assistant Commissioner for Community Based Strategies in the Division of Preventive Services, explained the goal of partnering with parents and discussed whether ACS can truly deliver safe and confidential help to families.
Q: What are Family Enrichment Centers?
Martin: These are neighborhood spaces that families can walk into no matter what their level of need or circumstance, whether they are in crisis or just have questions that they want answers to without feeling judged or criticized.
Burger: So many families get prevention after there’s a crisis. We wanted to focus on providing a place where you can come in at any time. Maybe you just had a baby and you’re nervous and want to meet other moms. Maybe you’re a grandma and want extra support for your little ones. We hope we can keep families from needing intensive services by providing help early.
Q: How are they different from other preventive services?
Burger: These centers will not provide case management or intensive services. There’s no intake process. You don’t have to sign any forms or give up any rights. People can get free support without being tracked in a database. Information about families cannot be shared unless the parent gives written consent. The goal is to not make this a place where they can drum up referrals to ACS. But the staff are mandated reporters. They have to report imminent risk to a child. There will be transparency about that.
We’ve made special efforts to prevent the kind of stigma and experience folks have received in our current system. Contractors are prohibited from using any space that they currently use for foster care or prevention. We didn’t allow agencies to hire staff that currently work in prevention or foster care. The job descriptions required that they hired folks that were free of connection to the child welfare system.
The other thing is that every offering has to be co-designed with families. We’re opening the doors to start a conversation and build relationships. The next seven months will be about hearing from parents and understanding what folks want. The FEC staff will be going out and doing community meetings. We’re providing stipends to parents to participate. Then we will have a grand opening and say here’s our parent board and here are the offerings we have. So the first few months we may have a parenting class, a knitting group, or a resume workshop—whatever the community wants. Then needs will change.
Q: How will you address poverty?
Burger: We’re focused on mobility. We brought in experts and models, one called mobility mentoring, which has been proven to get families from homeless shelters to making $60,000 or more a year. It’s about getting people to a place where they feel like they can financially sustain themselves.
Q: What do you see as the challenges to building trust?
Martin: Communities, especially those of color, are so used to having ACS leave a footprint that often times has felt like oppression. What we need to be able to do through these centers is create that sense of: You know what’s best for your family. You know what help you need. We just need to help them get those needs met.