Thank you for joining us this evening for our 2016 Annual Meeting. It is always inspiring to be surrounded by colleagues and friends who share our mission and the love for the children we serve. Many of you may not know this, but prior to 1996, this Annual Meeting of our Board of Trustees was a largely closed event and Trustees were expected to contribute for their dinners. We changed that practice because we wanted to show our appreciation for the great value of the contributions of our volunteers, donors, families, & Trustees to the work we do.
It is not an exaggeration to say, that life has changed a lot in 20 years. Some of the changes we have experienced have been positive and have improved the type and quality of the care we provide. Some of the changes have been challenging like the way the State funds certain services or the negative impact on providers trying to continually provide quality care while not getting a cost of living increase in 8 years.
I am sure it is evident that tonight’s meeting is not going to be the typical format you have grown accustomed to over the last ten years. The reason is simple. As we approach our 100th anniversary in little more than one year, we want to change things up a bit. Dust off some of the proverbial old cobwebs and start with a fresh outlook.
When we are all revitalized, and inspired, everyone associated with YCS benefits. Enthusiasm sparks creativity, staff and volunteers are happier, programs thrive and children have a better quality of life and receive better care.
Traditionally, I talk about the agency’s accomplishments over the past year. However, tonight I’ve been charged with sharing my vision for the agency’s next 100 years, although I’m pretty sure I won’t be around to see it all. You’ll receive a printed summary of our 2015 achievements to read at your leisure.
But before I talk about the future of YCS, I’d like to travel back a little in time. We can’t formulate a plan for the future, if we do not have a solid understanding of our history and how far we have come.
Like my colleagues, I have many wonderful memories of those pioneering days. When I began my career at YCS as a clinician, YCS had only 4 programs: the Holley Center, 2 mental health clinics — one in Hudson County associated with Christ Episcopal Hospital in Jersey City and the other in Essex County — and our Youth in Action after school program in Newark.
I was hired to provide clinical consultation and education, as a part of the mental health clinic in Jersey City, to various private and governmental agencies working with children who needed mental health care. I also ran a support group for DFYS workers who were experiencing a very high rate of “burn out” because of the terrible conditions they experienced every day at work. I was young, had lots of hair, and was very idealistic. I wanted and still want to improve the lives of children who — through no fault of their own — were suffering.
After a few short years, I was named as Assistant Site Administrator in Jersey City and helped develop some new and exciting programs there. I had had some experience working in residential treatment in NYC prior to coming to YCS and set up that agency’s first residential treatment program for adolescent substance abusers in the West Village.
So, when I was approached by Julian Stone, the Executive Director of YCS at the time, to become the site administrator of the Holley Center, I welcomed the chance to be able to have an even greater direct impact on the lives of the children who lived there. (insert about job interview)
Residential care was relatively new back then. The State’s primary concern was placing children who were being abused and neglected in a safe and hopefully nurturing environment. But there was little understanding of how to address the children’s emotional and psychological needs that were the squeal of that abuse and neglect.
I have fond memories of children coming into my office and always asking for some little thing – toys, treats, new sneakers — but really hungry for the attention of a caring adult who would take an interest in them and say “yes” instead of “no”. Sometimes we’d sit on the floor and play games together, and we would do a lot of “corridor therapy” in the hallway on the run. Our play time gave them space to just be children in a safe environment.
More than anything, our children want to be accepted for the persons they are and validated for the past experiences they’ve endured. This is the empathetic culture I strove to instill in the staff — both then and now. It is my belief — proven by not all, but many staff over the years — that if I could demonstrate empathy for the staff and their struggle to provide care to extremely damaged children, the staff would turn around and share that feeling of empathy with the children.
Those early days were fraught with many challenges. For one, the 23 children at Holley did not attend school in the community. Every day they were ushered into the Holley’s basement for school, right near the laundry room. Without air conditioning or windows, it was certainly not conducive to learning. Consequently, we worked hard to open the first George Washington School in 1983. With the success of GW, we had the template for our three additional schools.
My guiding principal has and always will be to accept every child on a “no reject, no eject” basis. It always seemed silly to me that other agencies would not accept a child for treatment because they exhibited the very problems which got them My guiding principal has and always will be to accept every child on a “no reject, no eject” basis. It always seemed silly to me that other agencies would not accept a child for treatment because they exhibited the very problems which got them referred for treatment in the first place. Or if the child’s behavior became particularly challenging, they would discharge the child from their agency.
Our “No reject, no eject” principal has now become the standard of care for all other residential providers in the State. Every children’s provider in the NJ must agree to this principal on every residential contract they receive. It is the norm, not the exception.
With the support of the YCS Board of Trustees – and three of its exceptional chairman, Harold Williams, Don Higdon and now Dominck D’Agosta — YCS was given the green light to expand our services Statewide in order to create an integrated continuum of care. Society was spotlighting many social ills that contributed to the traumas many children and families faced, and we knew YCS could be part of the solutions.
The rest, as they say, the rest is history. We continue to be awarded countless grants by the Department of Children and Families and the Division of Developmental Disabilities to provide small therapeutic group homes across the State for children and permanent residences for young adults with life long disabilities. This is our strength… our expertise…our life long mission.
The need for residential, educational, vocational and home care services has been on a steady increase even as state and local funding for these services have been reduced. Recent research has shown a strong correlation between mental health issues, challenging behaviors and previously undiagnosed intellectual and developmental disabilities.
It is estimated that 50% of all persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities have a psychiatric disorder. For children affected by autism the rate of dual diagnosis is between 60 -70%. Considering that 1 in 48 children in New Jersey are identified as affected by autism by the age of 8, this number is staggering.
For youth affected by depression the numbers are also sobering. Each year approximately 47,000 New Jersey between the age of 12 and 17 experience a major depressive episode, while less than half (41.8%) receive treatment. There is no statistic for the number of these children who are also affected by an intellectual or development disability, but we have definitely found a correlation in the youth that we serve.
Why am I showering you with all these statistics? Because, they loudly demonstrate the need for our services and the future direction of YCS. Last year, we received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from families desperately seeking help for their loved ones.
Recently a grandmother reached out to us for help for her 17-year-old autistic grandson. The young man became disoriented and aggressive when his older brother died. He could not understand what was happening and became violent towards her. We provided her with several options: temporary placement in our new crisis stabilization assessment program or Sawtelle home care services. This grandmother’s situation is not atypical. She is representative of hundreds of families who love their children but do not have the capacity to keep them safe and stable.
Our compassionate staff has been diligent in answering the calls of these families. In the last year, YCS has opened four Sawtelle homes and anticipate the opening of two more homes before the end of the year. In our vision for the future, we want to have homes in every county of the state so that families can remain close to their loved ones
This is not just about numbers or “market share”; it is about people and their families, people like Andrew, Daniel and Shivonne.