by David Schwartz –
To many Rivertowns residents The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry is a mystery. They tend to hear about it only when there are problems. But the organization, with a 180 acre campus at the top of Walgrove Avenue, has been in the community since 1901, and is a nationally recognized provider of services to those who have been denied almost everything a child has a right to expect. These are children who respond to their circumstances with awe-inspiring determination, courage, resilience and kindness. CV’s mission is to keep them safe, to offer them education, and to help them become successful and responsible members of their communities.
The heart of that historic mission is the residential treatment center for young people, mostly boys in foster care or those who have committed low-level, non-violent crimes. Since 2004, CV has also served immigrant children who arrived in this country alone, often in search of parents or other family members. Residents live and eat in renovated two-story Tudor style cottages housing approximately 10 people staffed by experienced care givers and attend a special education school, Greenburgh 11, on campus. They receive medical and dental care in a modern health center with a full-time staff including a doctor, which is supported by the Keith Haring Foundation and brightly decorated with the late artist’s work. Social workers, psychologists and a psychiatry department offer clinical care. This year CV was licensed to offer drug treatment to its residents.
For some who need more intensive short-term psychiatric care CV has pioneered the Jackson Rapid Intervention Center, a 21day substitute for the trauma of hospitalization. The only service of its kind in the metropolitan New York area, the Center is open not only to children from the campus but to boys and girls on referral from other mental health and child welfare programs.
Residents use the Lanza Recreation Center with full size gymnasium, fitness room, and swimming pool as well as a kitchen and café where they learn cooking skills, and a barber shop. They have a modern recording studio, a library which offers activities including writing workshops, and art studios. Mentoring, Chapel, and work training programs provide the boys opportunities for growth. What becomes obvious in a visit to the Dobbs Ferry campus is that the children who come to CV get serious help for serious problems while also having an opportunity to regain a part of their lost childhood.
The D’Assern Housing complex on the edge of the campus offers staff 112 apartments at affordable rents. Children of these families attend the Dobbs Ferry schools for which Greenburgh 11 annually pays the public school district close to $600,000 in tuition.
CV also provides residential care in a wider community including elsewhere in Westchester. Under contract, the agency now operates Woodfield Cottage in Valhalla, the County’s juvenile detention center. It also offers a shelter for homeless and runaway boys and girls aged 12-17. Recently CV has opened a cottage, also in Valhalla, for girls who have been trafficked.
In recent decades, though, child care professionals have come to understand that residential treatment should be temporary and children are best served by keeping them part of a family. CV’s extensive adoption and foster care services are designed for those situations where placement in the birth family is not possible. Moreover, the work of Children’s Village has expanded beyond its historic activities to a vast array of prevention services and programs to help youngsters succeed when they leave residential care. Last year CV supported 8100 children and families.
Several years ago, The Children’s Village merged with Inwood House which since the 19th century has offered care to pregnant teens and new mothers. Among other activities the agency now offers not only residential care, but programs for both boys and girls in 26 middle and high schools designed to develop healthy relationships and leadership skills and prevent pregnancy.
CV has also recently addressed the issue of affordable housing so crucial to keeping families together. The agency built the beautiful Harlem Dowling building. It includes space for community services, 60 affordable apartments for residents of Harlem, and 12 studios of transitional housing for young adults aging out of foster care, a time of great homelessness. In 2017, Bay House opened in Yonkers. It is a collaboration between CV and Westhab, Westchester’s biggest developer of affordable housing, which built and owns the facility at which staff from CV provide supportive services to 16 residents between 18-24 years old. And at present, CV is engaged with others in the development of Eliza, a new building in the Inwood section of Manhattan which will provide the community with a new public library, 175 deeply affordable apartments and a wide offering of community services.
The range of CV’s services is astounding – from operation of a community center in public housing in Harlem, to transitional mentoring of young adults or youth leaving prison or on probation, to multi-systemic therapy in families whose teens are returning from out of home placements, and these are only part of the picture. All of the agency’s activities are subject to rigorous results-based annual evaluation, and there is, as CV’s statement of strategic intent says, a commitment to “continue to build…based on the understanding that our role is to lift up, empower and support children, families, communities…” as it has for over a century.