Hope in a Crisis
When Melanie (not her real name) started feeling like her kids were too much to handle, she thought she would have to give up her two-year-old son. As a young single mother living in a shelter, she didn’t believe that she was able to take care of him.
Melanie’s shelter sent her to the New York Foundling’s Crisis Nursery—a program in lower Manhattan that offers up to three weeks of free childcare to parents facing a crisis. It also gives them emergency cash and goods, counseling, help in dealing with city agencies and a service plan that connects them to support in their own communities.
New York Foundling Director Bill Baccaglini believes that if New York City had more programs like the Crisis Nursery, many parents could avoid the situations that lead children to go into foster care. Although the city has other emergency childcare programs, the nursery is unique for the services and continuing support that it offers to parents.
“If we had programs like this in the outer boroughs,” said Baccaglini, “abuse rates would drop, and neglect would drop.”
Melanie was relieved to find a safe place to leave her son for awhile. And when he was admitted, she began to receive guidance on parenting. The Crisis Nursery found out that Melanie was a victim of domestic violence—and that part of the reason she was thinking of giving up her son was that she feared she couldn’t keep him safe.
The Crisis Nursery helped Melanie obtain an order of protection against her abuser. They also gave her counseling on domestic violence, and connected her to a support program in her own community.
Melanie is now living with both of her children and continues to stay in contact with the nursery. “She feels more capable of meeting her son’s needs,” said Victoria Peña, the director of the Crisis Nursery. “And she knows she can always count on us for support.”
Keeping families together is one of the main goals of the Crisis Nursery, along with preventing child abuse and neglect. They believe that facing a crisis without support can be more than even the most well-meaning parent can handle. And too often, that’s when children go into foster care.
By caring for the parent as well as the child, the Crisis Nursery hopes to make the family safer in both the present and the future.
‘The Challenge is Fear’
But not all parents believe that. One of the greatest challenges the Crisis Nursery faces is convincing parents to trust them. Many parents who come to the nursery have been in care themselves or had bad experiences with city agencies. Because the nursery gets funding from ACS and must report evidence of physical abuse, parents fear that it wants to take their children away from them.
The Crisis Nursery is working to get out the message that their goal is to help parents care for their children, without judging or separating their families. “We understand that they don’t know who we are,” said Peña. “The challenge is fear, and we work with that.”
A Feeling of Hope
The nursery gets most of their clients from direct calls to their parent hotline, and many others are referred by agencies and hospitals that work with parents. Most of their clients are single mothers, and the most common crises that bring them to the nursery are domestic violence and mental illness.
The nursery can accommodate up to 10 children at a time and children must be under 10 years old. The kids sleep under colorful quilts in the nursery’s two bedrooms, and during the afternoons, volunteers visit to read stories and play games with them.
Victoria Peña said parents often feel a sense of relief as soon as they walk in the doors. “Because they’re in crisis, they feel like there’s no one. But when they walk in here they know that there’s hope.”
To get in touch with New York Foundling’s Crisis Nursery, call their parent helpline at 1-888-435-7553.