Abbott House: born of social justice & social service.
Edith and Grace Abbott were sisters with legendary reputations in the social justice and social service movements of the early 20th century. In 1963 a child-welfare agency bearing their name was opened in Westchester, New York on the bucolic grounds of what was once a 42-room Tudor Estate in Irvington-on-Hudson.
From the start, Abbott House has been in or near the vanguard of the theory and practice of social service, adapting its practice for children and adults with complex needs, as understanding of optimal human development has progressed. From humble beginnings in the mid-50s, taking available space for children in the then “Irvington House”, another organization on the forefront, developing new antibiotic treatments for children with rheumatic fever.
Two days before Christmas in 1963, Abbott House formally became sole occupant of the building and grounds, and proceeded to expand and evolve its practice of caring for children with complex needs, from trauma ridden environments, in group home settings - consistent with the gold standard thinking of the day.
Our Inaugural Dinner with Dr. King
On October 29, 1965, Abbott House held its first inaugural dinner, a coming out of sorts with the invocation spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Entitled “The Dignity of Family Life”, King sounded themes of community, identity and family particularly appropriate to the times and the abiding beliefs of Edith and Grace Abbott. “Who is my neighbor?” he challenged. “A great man (has) the capacity to project the “I” into “thou”.
Dr. King’s words found common ground with the Abbott sisters, and common ground with the history of Abbott House yet to be written.
The Formative Years
In succeeding decades, Abbott House leadership expanded the facets of coordinated care that the organization could deliver to its children with complex needs. In a very real sense, the leadership team was front-running today’s philosophy of “wraparound care”, and thinking not just about stabilizing a child in the moment, but providing foundational support toward a promising future. In 1972, Abbott House opened a Special Acts School District in Westchester. Later in the 1990s, prevocational training for adolescents began, which has blossomed today into full-fledged college and workforce preparation programs.
The Revolution from Institution to Extended Family Settings
Abbott House invested in the larger revolution in the foster care system by investing in the development of an extensive network of some 25 family-like group homes for children. This strategy helped remove children and adolescents from large impersonal institutions, and caring for them instead in extended family settings. The expansion of our network continued across the New York – Hudson region through the 1980s, into the early 1990s. This era also saw the emergence of bringing therapeutic intervention to foster children and adolescents in their homes.
Extending and Deepening our Expertise in Developmental Disability
In the 1990’s, responding to the need for specialized community based residences; Abbott House developed residential programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities, including day habilitation and prevocational training programs. Today, a deep understanding of trauma and the widespread and often subtle condition of disability is at the heart of our practice.
Holistic & Comprehensive Care
Since the year 2000, Abbott House leadership has sought to deepen and fill in gaps in our expertise to provide a higher and more holistic standard of care. Some of these initiatives include:
- Post adoption services for Foster Families
- Intensive Prevention Programs for families at risk of losing children to institutional care.
- The “Bridges to Family” program provides a second chance for children who didn’t adapt to program residences, to avoid institutionalization and move into a supportive family setting.
- The “Bridges to Health” program is a partnership with the Federal Government to provide bridge to home and community services for high- risk children with acute emotional, developmental and medical conditions.
- Providing short-term care and treatment for children from other countries until a US family member or sponsor is identified.
- The launch of the Training Institute for nonprofit child welfare professionals and foster parents.
- The launch of the “Permanency Resource Center” to help adoptive and guardianship families remain together.
The Watershed of 2008
2008 marked the end of primary emphasis in care on institutional programs and services. This marked another dramatic transition for the entire child social service sector, ushering in a transition at Abbott House to being a completely community-based agency. It brought overall program growth, in terms of the number of children, adolescents and adults in our care. It brought a stepped up emphasis on prevention, with the launch of the “Family Assessment and Community Enhancement Program”, to provide crucial early intervention services.
Abbott House Today
Consistent with our own philosophy and advancements in thinking in the profession, we are investing in programs and training that are: community and home-based, prevention and trauma-focused, and holistic.
In keeping with our mission to provide durable foundations and promising futures to humans with the most complex needs, we are broadening our work to include new populations.
Our training institute continues to provide an umbrella of training and resources for the Abbott House team, colleagues from other social service organizations, foster parents and parents of children and adults with disabilities.
In 2016, we launched another resource, aimed at helping adoptive and guardianship families remain together. The “Permanency Resource Center” is now helping families across Dutchess, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester Counties to persist and work through the ongoing challenges to successful parenting and family building.
Community & Home-based program investments
New York State selected Abbott House as the institution to pilot launch the Federal program called “Bridges to Health.” It provides community and home-based healthcare management and support services to foster children with especially complex medical, developmental, and mental health needs. The program enabled Abbott House to develop its “Health Home” service more broadly, to help coordinate and direct the care of children and adults who are often served by teams of professionals from across several different organizations.
Another home-based program, developed by Abbott House, is called “Bridges to Family.” It provides a second chance to children who didn’t adapt to program residences, and rather than find themselves institutionalized, they work intensively with a team of Abbott House professionals to move into a more supportive family setting.
Deepening Focus on Prevention & Trauma
The universality of deep trauma in our populations increasingly calls for sophisticated professional therapeutic services and care. Abbott House is certified by the State to deliver such care in home and in facility to our children, adolescents and their families, as well as our adults with disabilities. In addition to investment to increase this portion of our team, we want all of our staff to be trained to take a therapeutic mindset to their work, regardless of role or situation.
Not only does the complexity of trauma need to be met with competent professional care, it needs to be minimized and avoided in the first place. Our “Family Assessment and Community Enhancement” (FACE) program was developed to provide various crucial early intervention services to help children avoid being assigned to the foster care system in the first place. Historically, Abbott House work with children and adolescents began with the foster care system. The profound shift in thinking behind FACE is to become involved in working with original families at risk of losing their children to institutional care.
New Complex Populations & Environments
In 2013, Abbott House received an 18-month contract from the Federal Government to provide safe harbor and care to children and adolescents fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries. The program is called “Transitional Resources for Children.” (TRC) It’s a reunification program for children entering the United States from other countries without an adult guardian. Abbott House provides short-term care and treatment while a family member or sponsor is identified. During their stay, children receive room and board, case management, individual counseling, Medical, educational and recreational services. Abbott House is among a select group of institutions with expertise in children with complex needs, from complex environments, that are providing these services. In 2017, Abbott House received a new multiyear Federal contract extending and expanding our work in this emerging field for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, Abbott House began to work with adolescent populations in the criminal justice system, providing care and treatment for those assigned to Non-Secure Detention Program to help ensure their first interaction with the justice system is their last. In 2017, Abbott House opened a second program for adolescent girls.
Our Community Schools Prevention Program takes head on the environment of under-resourced schools in under-resourced communities. It’s one example of our forward thinking in community-based early intervention to transform elementary education. We began this work several years ago as a part of a pilot partnership with the government of New York City. Called "The Community Schools Resource Program," it seeks to accelerate the closing of academic gaps for elementary students in the Bronx by viewing the school as an extended community. We engage parents, families, government and other influencers outside school walls, in an overtly holistic view of the child’s environment for learning. For example, our experiment includes after school and summer programming, family engagement, social services, and physical and mental health services. Our aim is to see if we can change the course of outcomes in dramatically under-resourced districts, where children and their families simply can’t see their way to creating a strong educational foundation towards a promising future. The ultimate goal is to develop a school community in which the students evolve into productive adults who will continue to grow economically, academically and socially throughout their lives.