Children's Services Creates Child and Family Friendly Spaces
Bright new spaces and sweeping vistas await many families using new visiting rooms at Children’s Services. When families enter the visiting room at the Manhattan borough office location at 110 William Street, they are greeted by the “Waterfall” public arts project on one side and 20th floor views of magnificent architectural buildings nearby. In Richmond Hill, Queens, there is another family visiting site, located in a one-family brick house, complete with an outdoor playground and multiple visiting rooms inside.
Both visiting locations are part of Children’s Services’ strategy to make visits comfortable, relaxed encounter between children in care and their families so that the children can return home safely as quickly as possible. “Families love the physical plant of the building and do not want to leave us when their time is completed,” explains Yvette Rodgers, Director of the Family Center in Richmond Hill, Queens. “The Center has transformed some parents from being angry, confrontational, or hostile into warm loving adults and parents.”
Not too long ago, these spaces set aside for visiting would have been considered exceptions as family visiting areas were barely more than a room with a table and some chairs. Today, many more of these child and family friendly spaces can be found at several borough office locations, as Children's Services has made efforts to ensure that visiting spaces, bathrooms, consultation rooms and reception areas at several borough offices are welcoming to children and families.
In Manhattan, the visiting room is furnished with a comfortable sitting area complete with a flat screen television and several play areas with bookshelves and tables packed with toys, games and books for the children and informational pamphlets on ACS services and programs. Covering almost half of one wall of the large space is a world atlas, and according to staff, it is great to see children point out their country of origin, or places they dream of visiting.
“This new space is intended “to make families feel more at ease,” says Deputy Director for Administration for Manhattan, Doug Brooks. Families that are brought to the attention of Children’s Services are often in crisis, he explained. “Just as it is our responsibility to provide services that strengthen children and families; it is also our responsibility to value them. This family room is not only child safe, but it is a room in which the entire family could enjoy and feel more comfortable.” Brooks adds that since families have begun using this room, “we have noticed an improvement in the quality of visits. The families have been better able to interact in this warmer environment.”
The Richmond Hill Center operates six days a week, with evening hours, and recreates a homelike setting where youths and their parents can meet, talk, cook a meal or even throw a birthday party. A new playground and picnic area has been added and has contributed greatly to the welcoming feel of the center.
Rodgers notes that the Center’s physical environment, a two- story brick house with no city sign on the building, located on a residential block of similar homes, contributes to the success of the visits because it doesn’t feel like an office or institutional setting. The new playground has turned visits into child’s play, and is often a focal point, as visits are sometimes held in the in the backyard/patio area where the playground is located.
Hayden Blades, Assistant Commissioner of Facilities in the Division of Administration notes that the agency is often restricted in what it can do to make many of these changes because of space restrictions in our locations in older buildings. “But when we are able to renovate or build new spaces, every effort is made to include appropriate family-friendly amenities such as changing tables in the men’s as well as women’s bathrooms.”
Says Brooks about the value of the new visiting sites: “The best thing of all is that it shows the family that we do care and value them, allowing us another opportunity to best serve them.”