A View From New York City’s Most Diverse Borough
We are a wealthy nation and could eliminate child poverty, as some other advanced nations have, if we had the political will to do so. But we allow it to persist. While there continue to be children in New York City whose basic needs remain unmet, and a national climate that does not prioritize the care of destitute young people, Forestdale’s work remains vital.
Every day, we witness families struggling to make their lives whole. Despite the many obstacles they face, parents and children actively engage with us to progress up the road to a brighter future. They dream of a stable home life, financial independence, quality health care, a rewarding career. Forestdale is here to make those dreams a reality. And we do! Through our many programs and services, we provide the foundation and ongoing support to give thousands of Queens residents a fair shot at a life that is happy, healthy, productive, and fulfilling.
In 2017, the Forestdale team is unified in its desire to bring the best wrap-around services to the Queens community. In today’s complex world, there are rarely simple answers that work. We must build out more comprehensive services because that is what our young people need to thrive. We’re also compelled to develop innovative approaches to address the most stubborn and enduring aspects of child poverty. We need to constantly stay attuned to new issues that arise for our families as the context on the national landscape changes. As we look ahead, we will be adding new, dynamic programs that focus on giving immigrant families access to healthcare and proper legal channels, helping young people leaving foster care transition to a solid career path, and building caregiver attachments in early childhood.
Forestdale is pleased to present our FY 2016 Annual Review. In addition to our Fiscal Year 2016 Audited Financials, we describe some of the changes taking place in Queens, look back at the last decade under former Executive Director Anstiss Agnew, note progress over the past year, and look ahead to where Forestdale goes from here. We remain inspired by our clients and grateful to our amazing staff, volunteers, board members, community residents, donors, government partners, and elected officials who help to make that brighter future possible.
William Weisberg, Executive Director Robert Whiteford, Chair, Board of Trustees
With a proven track record of 162 years of service, Forestdale is a leading NYC poverty-fighting, family-services agency, helping vulnerable families and children, including many immigrants, heal and flourish. This past year, Forestdale showed great progress in advancing its mission to ensure that children and families have the fundamental assets needed to thrive and live independently. Staff, donors, volunteers, community members, policy leaders, and respected experts in the field joined together in 2016 to help more than 1,200 families find the support they were seeking. The results were tremendous! Forestdale’s parenting programs demonstrated positive results as fathers increased their financial support to their children, and mothers developed stronger parental bonds. Overall health was improved as hundreds of foster children received high quality medical, dental, and mental-health treatment at our main campus. Infants fared better as they settled into safe homes and improved secure attachments with their caregivers. Teens who’ve experienced serious challenges in their young lives discovered new talents, launched future careers by obtaining internships or jobs, and learned how to have more responsible relationships. Forestdale is committed to using these positive results as a launching pad toward further innovation, hard work, and caring. Now in our 163rd year of service and our 76th year headquartered in the borough of Queens, we won’t rest until child poverty is ended. This is who we are. This is who we’ve always been. This is who we will continue to be: Family when families need us.
In 2016, Forestdale continued its work with foster children, their birth parents, foster parents, and the underserved. While traditional child-welfare programs are typically designed to ensure the basic safety of children and facilitate better familial functioning, Forestdale is committed to going beyond the basics to help children make long-term gains. Forestdale is a dynamic organization that continues to pursue cutting-edge, evidence-informed approaches to thoughtfully address the changing needs of low-income families across Queens.
Below is a brief summary of 2016 accomplishments:
Strengthening Families to Reduce Child Abuse or Neglect
- Strong Families – Preventive Services. Forestdale worked with 265 families who were at risk of losing their children. By providing expert family coaching, home visits, and connections to needed resources, families stayed together, were healthier, and children were safer. In fact, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) gave Forestdale top scores for excellence in casework and keeping children safe.
- Strong Families – Foster Care Services. Forestdale helped improve child safety and well-being by working with 541 children involved in the child-welfare system. Forestdale supports foster and birth parents through training and counseling so they and their children, birth to 21 years, can lead successful lives.
- Youth Development Services. Forestdale works with teens and young adults, helping them find a path to improving their lives. Forestdale assisted 18 young people in foster care with college enrollment; 67 young people participated in our career, academic, and life skills workshop series each month, and more than 100 received targeted academic tutoring, either in-home or at one of our two Queens locations.
Enhancing Parenting Programs in Order to Ensure a Stronger Next Generation
- Strong Fathers. Forestdale worked with 259 non-custodial fathers, helping them develop into the great dads they have been striving to become. Their work on anger management, cooperative co-parenting, and fathering skills resulted in an increase in their engagement with their children and financial support.
- Strong Mothers The Strong Mothers program worked with 91 pregnant and parenting young women, ages 12-24, providing information, support, and services to increase their ability to access healthcare, pursue educational and employment opportunities, and reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies. Forestdale provides education on birth-control options, healthy relationships, smart decision-making, and prevention of sexually-transmitted infections.
Creating Healthier Futures
- Attachment and Bio-behavioral Catch-up (ABC). This evidence-based, home-visiting program, developed by Dr. Mary Dozier of the University of Delaware, trains therapists to use coaching and video feedback to encourage a stronger parent-baby bond. In 2012, Forestdale was the first organization in New York City to implement ABC. A rigorous evaluation measure showed that families who completed the program demonstrated increased parental sensitivity and stability, and improved caregiver-child bonding.
- Trauma Systems Therapy (TST). This therapeutic modality has been proven in research trials to increase emotional regulation and decrease hospitalization. In partnership with TST developer, D Glenn Saxe, New York University’s Chair of Child Psychiatry and Director of its Child Study Center, TST engages families in building a healing environment for traumatized children. In 2015-2016, 293 children in foster care received TST and/or individual trauma-informed therapy.
- Strong Bodies, Strong Minds. Forestdale’s successful partnership with New York University’s Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry ensures that foster youth receive medical and dental care on-site, as well as through our team of community-based physicians. In 2016, 541 children/youth in foster care received medical and dental services. More than 200 young people received individual therapy to address trauma, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and other mental-health challenges.
- Strong Futures Pregnancy Prevention. We trained 19 peer sex educators, who have partnered with our health-education staff, to provide pregnancy prevention education and support (counseling and contraceptives) to more than 100 teens. Some 28% of our young mothers who are seeking to delay a second pregnancy chose long-acting reversible contraceptive options.
Welcoming a new Executive Director
- As of January 1, 2016, William Weisberg Ph.D. became Forestdale’s Executive Director. He had been Executive Vice President for The Children’s Aid Society, where he helped launch a center to improve outcomes for young people aging out of foster care, and created full-service community schools and early childhood centers. Dr. Weisberg has overseen award-winning family services for 36 years and has had significant experience with a wide variety of youth and family services in New York City. He brings his expertise, passion, and vision to his work in service to Forestdale families.
Anstiss Agnew sits by the window of her office at Forestdale overlooking the sprawling playground built during her tenure as Executive Director, as children gleefully climb and slide on the bright orange and blue equipment. Her legs are tucked under and hugged by the cushion of a worn loveseat. It’s an apt metaphor for the decade of loving service she’s given to Forestdale, a formerly modest foster-care agency that has, under her watch, grown into a powerful center for human transformation and systemic change.
During her 10 years at Forestdale, Anstiss worked diligently with staff and generous donors to bring in approximately $11 million in grants and private donations to fund new and innovative programs to help low-income residents of Queens. Prior to her arrival in 2006, Forestdale relied solely on government funding from the foster-care system. The idea of asking well-to-do people and foundations for significant donations had not been the norm prior to her arrival. But for Anstiss, fundraising to help children-in-need was second nature. It was something she’d done as a matter of course in her previous role as the head of Inwood House, the only organization in New York City focused primarily on comprehensively serving the needs of pregnant and parenting teens.
And if asking people for donations is second nature, helping people directly is her first nature. It was a moment in college, when she volunteered to teach developmentally-disabled children how to swim, that she tossed out her French major in exchange for a major in psychology. After a stint working with adolescents at a psychiatric hospital in New Mexico, she went on to get her Master’s degree in social work at Columbia University and continued to work with depression and children, this time at the Psychiatric Institute at Columbia Presbyterian. Four decades later, this petite woman has a giant and impressive track record, devoting her life to serve the underserved.
“Transitions,” she says, as she pops up from the loveseat to grab a book from the shelves of her extensive collection on psychology, sociology, and child development. It was this 1980 book by William Bridges that got her thinking about how to help those who’ve suffered a trauma move successfully onto the next phase of their personal development. The concept of defined life transition periods became the catalyst to create a deep menu of new Forestdale programs that Anstiss brought to bear.
But never did she think, at the age of 57, after being out of the job market for eight years to raise her children that she would head up a foster-care agency, especially as she walked into the interview in an arm sling from a recent rotator-cuff surgery. Two weeks later, the Forestdale Board Chair offered her the Executive Director position. The agency finances were tenuous, as the annual deficits were piling up, and they were looking for someone to turn the things around. Anstiss wasn’t sure it was the right move for her, but the Board Chair pleaded, “Just stay for a year.”
With her family’s approval, Anstiss took on the challenge and accepted a one-year position. Immediately, she began upgrading the facilities to ensure that both the indoor and outdoor spaces of this 3.5-acre campus were designed to promote healing, as well as relaxation and contemplation for all who visited. She quickly had air conditioners installed (there were none upon her arrival) and got computers for all staff, which led to the establishment of Forestdale’s first full Information Technology (IT) Department. Inside, the Forestdale receptionist sat behind a bulletproof glass window with venetian blinds. “That was incongruous to an agency charged with helping struggling families,” she says. “We tore that down and made sure to have welcoming, warm staff at an open front desk.” From there, she had trees planted on Forestdale’s expansive grounds, and hired a landscape architect, who added a lush garden for peaceful reflection.
Anstiss and her team soon turned Forestdale’s deficit into a surplus by going to Albany to advocate for a rate change, and approaching foundations for grants. She put the surplus to work by increasing salaries and bringing evidence-based programs to the agency. The next order of business was transforming the stigma and societal attitudes about birthparents whose children go into foster care. “Instead of punishing them, we needed to understand and help them transform their lives,” she says. Simple changes, like the prompt return of a birthparent’s call, were implemented immediately, which greatly improved the relationships between Forestdale staff and birth parents. Later in the year, she worked with the staff to create the birthparent Thanksgiving party, among other family events. With dramatic changes afoot, and the stamina to continue on, Anstiss’ one-year commitment lasted 10-1/2 years, with great appreciation from those who benefitted from her efforts.
Over the years, this powerhouse devoted much of her energy to developing important funding and legislative relationships with donors and local and federal government officials. And as the money started coming in, Anstiss initiated more programs for the Queens community. “We went from feeling isolated to being supported by community organizers in Queens,” she says. “If it was for kids and families, people were prepared to step forward when I called.”
To that end, Anstiss brought in money and connections to establish what have become Forestdale’s flagship programs. The Health Center, for example, came about through an introduction from someone in her book club to an administrator at New York University. When she described the uneven quality of medical care that kids in foster care receive, NYU agreed to establish a comprehensive primary care and dental center on Forestdale’s campus.
The first foundation to support Anstiss’ forward-thinking advocacy for Forestdale was the Child Welfare Fund (CWF). CWF continued to support the new Executive Director’s vision and soon provided funding to kick off the Attachment and Bio-Behavioral Catch-Up program, known as ABC. This evidence-based intervention, developed at the University of Delaware, is a home-visiting program in which trained therapists use coaching and video feedback to encourage a strong parent-baby bond. It’s been such a success that it’s being implemented around New York City through the Administration for Children’s Services.
As time went on, Anstiss saw a need to delve deeper to help children who’ve gone through trauma and to reduce the use of psychotropic medication. Short-term approaches to therapy were simply not enough, so she went back to her contacts at NYU and sought out the advice of Dr. Glenn Saxe, Chairman of the Child Psychiatry Department and the Director of NYU’s Child Study Center. His initiative, Trauma Systems Therapy (TST), is a 15-month immersion program which includes a team of therapists working with families to identify trauma triggers, while helping children develop the ability to understand and control their emotions.
Further down the road, Anstiss developed and grew a host of other programs, including: services for pregnant and parenting teens, as well as those at risk of unplanned pregnancy, to help them make thoughtful choices and plan for their future; the Fathering Initiative, which prepares non-custodial fathers to become more active and involved caregivers (the program doubled under Anstiss’ tenure); free flights for high schoolers in foster care to go on college tours around the United States, sponsored by JetBlue Airways; Culture For One, which connects youth in foster care to the arts in New York City; the Scholars Program, which provides dedicated counselors and tutors for kids in foster care to ensure that high-school graduation remains a top priority, and college an attainable goal; and, most recently, Anstiss raised $500,000 to establish a state-of-the-art Teaching Kitchen that accomplishes three goals: teaching families how to cook nutritious meals, training young people in culinary arts, and building family bonds.
But perhaps the most visible sign of Anstiss’ labor of love is in everyone’s sightline as they enter Forestdale’s main campus. In 2009, JetBlue funded and built a modern playground. Today, as children laugh and play on the equipment daily, it stands as a testament to the belief that families can thrive when people care. Anstiss Agnew has been a tireless advocate for families and has inspired so many people through her own example – staff, donors, elected officials, board members, and community leaders — to show families how important they are and how much we care.
The last decade has seen Forestdale become a leader in high-quality family programs, a trailblazer in trauma-informed therapy, and loyal partner in deep-rooted community relationships. So what’s in store for us over the next decade? Our focus ahead is on designing innovative wrap-around services so we’re always saying, “Yes, we can help you!” From birth through parenthood, the Forestdale team is united in bringing the most effective, innovative, and responsive programs to all of our clients. We hope you will join us as we turn this inspiring action plan into reality.
- Strong Futures Internship. As 2016 came to a close, we established a concrete training ground that leads to a solid career path for the many young people who might otherwise leave foster care and family poverty and move into unemployment, homelessness, or incarceration. Started by a few generous donors, this paid internship offers young people on-site training in culinary arts, automotive work, childcare, peer sexuality education, and information technology. Our first group of 22 young people, most of whom had been previously disinterested and unengaged, has found renewed motivation from this supportive work experience. In the near future, we will expand the Strong Futures program beyond our campus.
- Life Coaching. Young people sometimes leave the foster-care system at the age of 18 or 21 to face life without family support, housing, or permanent employment. We are doing everything we can to help all of our young people prepare to obtain a college degree, a future career, and connections to caring adults. We are planning to add life coaching, a proven effective method to achieving life goals, to our array of supports for adolescents and young adults so they have every opportunity to succeed.
- Enrichment Classes for Preschoolers. When parents come to Forestdale, we provide safe and nurturing childcare. We have brought in an early childhood expert, who has helped us turn this into an opportunity to offer early childhood enrichment, so small children have time to learn while they play and laugh.
- Material Assistance Fund. Initiated in the summer of 2016, with help from our board and donors, this $25,000 fund is now available to help families and youth who have an immediate, material need. From the get go, we were able to help several families obtain cribs and other supplies for infants. Going forward, we hope to build this fund to help more and more Queens residents in crisis.
- Immigrant Support. While the future appears to hold new perils for immigrant families, we are actively developing programs to help those in fear of losing access to healthcare and basic human rights. Partnerships with local healthcare providers and law schools that provide clinics on immigrant rights are at the top of our 2017 agenda.
- Saturday Arts Program in Hollis. All children, including those who have faced hardships, deserve a life full of intellectual stimulation, fun, and laughter. To meet this need, our Hollis Mentoring program is developing a robust weekend arts calendar, in addition to its weekday mentoring and tutoring activities. Youth work with local professionals on their music skills, acting, and dancing. Kicking off in December 2016, the children performed a joyful showcase, much to the delight of family, staff, and community members.
- Fostering Relationships. Our University of Delaware partners are piloting a mentoring program based upon their Attachment and Bio-behavioral Catch-up (ABC) model, to help young children in foster care bond with the adults in their lives. These secure attachments are associated with improved success in school and employment, and better interpersonal relationships throughout life. This new intervention has the potential to revolutionize foster care by using routine visitation between birth parents and children as important learning time.
- State-of-the-Art Spaces. In the coming months, we will embark on a large renovation project to create modern spaces with updated technology for our clients and community partners to hold meetings, conduct family visitations, and administer workforce trainings and academic classes. Also included will be a special maternal/early childhood center. Funds for this undertaking were recently awarded to Forestdale through a $1,000,000 grant from the New York State’s Capital Investment Program.
We are excited about all of these plans, but need your help. We hope you will join us so we can realize these plans for helping more children and families achieve greater success and joy. If you would like to help, please donate here. Thank you so much!
Forestdale’s work is made possible through long-term partnerships with public and private foundations, corporate partners, and generous individuals. In order to continue the high-quality and innovative services we provide to the families we serve, we require engaged and committed partners including governmental agencies, private foundations, corporate entities, and individuals.
A sample of key supporters includes:
The Caravel Fund
Child Welfare Fund
Claremont Neighborhood Center
Cicatelli Associates Inc.
Community Resource Exchange
The Echo Design Group
The Edith Glick Shoolman Children’s Foundation
The Edwin Caplin Foundation
Ernst & Young
First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Forest Hills Hospital
The Fund for Public Health in New York
The Ginsberg Feshbach Family Fund
Grant Thornton LLP
Hedge Funds Care
High Water Women
The Hyde & Watson Foundation
The Ira W. De Camp Foundation
The Jack & Dorothy Kupferberg Family Foundation
The Janey Fund Charitable Trust
The Martha Mertz Foundation
Mutual of America
New York City Administration for Children’s Services
New York City Council
New York City Council Member Karen Koslowitz
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
New York City Department of Youth and Community Development
The New York Community Trust
New York State Department of Health
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
Rego Park-Forest Hills Lions Club
Ridgewood Savings Bank
Saint Demetrios Astoria High School
Soccer Friends USA
The Susan A. and Donald P. Babson Charitable Foundation
The van Ameringen Foundation
The Washington Square Fund
And the many individuals who give their money, time and effort to Forestdale.
These supporters provide funds or donations that help Forestdale provide outstanding services and therapeutic interventions to the most vulnerable populations in Queens.
For more information on our supporters click HERE.
Forestdale is able to provide the services families need as a result of its strong financial position. To read details of the audited financial statement for FY16, please click below:
Fiscal Year 2016 Audited Financial Statements
Brooklyn may have its bridge, Staten Island its ferry, the Bronx its zoo, and Manhattan its skyscrapers. But Queens, heralded as the borough of immigrants, is home to the iconic Unisphere, a 120-foot-diameter globe representing “peace through understanding,” the theme of the 1964 World’s Fair for which it was originally constructed. For more than 75 years, Forestdale has been proud to call Queens home. Forestdale’s primary mission, to strengthen families and help them thrive, is consistent with the 1964 World Fair theme.
Some 2.3 million people live in our great borough — said to be one of the most diverse places in the world — with immigrants from more than 120 countries. As significant as these numbers are, they fail to capture the actual richness of the diversity across the borough, which is comprised of cultures representing Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as from across Europe and Asia. Forestdale’s services are targeted to those facing the challenges that come with immigrant status and a history of suffering from bias and low income. Queens is one of the fastest growing communities in New York City with immigrants accounting for the majority of that growth. “We cherish the diversity,” says Borough President Melinda Katz. “It exposes us to new ideas that help us think differently and meet opportunities with more creativity, more perspective, and more innovation.”
As the vibrancy of our bustling international borough brings growth in business and prosperity, including a 33.42% increase in median household income 2000 – 2013 (www.city-data.com), we are coming together as a community to address the 18.8% child poverty rate (CCC of New York, April 2012) as well as the rate of teen pregnancies, 45 pregnancies per 1,000 girls age 15-19, in our borough (www.health.ny.gov/statistics). For 162 years, Forestdale has embraced new ideas and innovation to meet the needs of our changing neighborhoods. In Hollis, we established a satellite center to give children the academic support they need to do well in school. In Ozone Park, we’ve brought reproductive health education into middle-school classrooms to help tweens and teens make smart decisions about relationships, their bodies, and their health. In Forest Hills, with the assistance of outside funding, we built a green space on our campus — a space that includes a basketball court, an accessible playground for children of all ages and ability levels, and a meditation garden. Our families bring their children here on a regular basis just to play and enjoy the outdoors in a safe, secure environment. Our caseworkers travel from the far eastern reaches of Jamaica, to the pockets of central Corona, and to the western borders of Long Island City to ensure that the families we serve are on the path to better lives.
While we celebrate Queens as a global community and the Unisphere as a tribute to our ethnic mosaic, we treasure Forestdale’s nurturing capacity to be family when families need us.