By Melanie Holland, CEI Intern.
Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) in 1853 through his Orphan Train Movement. Brace created an organization that focused on rescuing orphaned children from the streets of NYC by connecting them to families across the country. The focus was on providing the children with a family lifestyle, while offering them the opportunity to assist their new families as an ‘extra pair of hands.’ The organization placed over 120,000 children to new families between the 1853s and early 1900s. Although many believe this to be a controversial social experiment, it laid the groundwork for the mission of CAS, and for the foster care system as a whole.
Stemming from this, The Children’s Aid Society’s mission is to ‘help children in poverty to succeed and thrive by providing comprehensive supports to children and their families in targeted high-needs New York City neighborhoods.’ The Children’s Aid Society believes the problem holding back students from being successful in school is out-of-school factors. As such, they have developed a Community Based Model (CBS) to support adolescent development and learning.
The Children’s Aid Society CBS model can be envisioned as a three-legged stool made up of the school, the CAS, and the parents/community. All three of the Directors: CAS, principal, and Parent Director are the ‘fabric of the school:’ they work closely together, attend committee meetings and jointly plan the majority of school/community events. Each CAS school works within the model but strives to be flexible to the specific needs of the community, as well as the personalities of its leaders. The CAS leadership within each school is based on a staff of at least 30 employees that run the programs, camps, and services, including dentists, nurse practitioners, and social workers.
To foster parent leadership and community roles within the school, CAS established the Pepin Leadership Institute in 2007. The PLI was created after parent engagement research reported that the immigrant families in the Washington Heights community felt unworthy of enter the school building, and that they could not adequately support their children’s education. The PLI has four distinct components: the Parent Resource Center, Adult Education Classes and workshops, Parent Leadership Development, and Parent Coordinators.
Despite its effectiveness, each school costs over a million dollars to operate each year, and at best, 65% of funding can come from state and federal grants. As such, the CBS Model cannot be scaled up to a national level, because funding would be extremely competitive with each school receiving less funding and relying more on tax dollars. Despite this, the Children’s Aid Society provides a great example of the benefits of a strong Community presence in the school system. School leaders and staff are more aware of the needs of their students, students and parents become more comfortable and supported, and student achievement incrementally increases.