Partnership with Children: Life-Changing Work in Under-Resourced Communities

Lynthia Romney

For children living in conditions of financial poverty – such as housing insecurity and food scarcity – getting to school every day can be difficult. Not always knowing where they will sleep or when they will eat creates a kind of “chronic stress” that makes focusing in class and being ready to learn almost impossible.

But since the onslaught of the COVID-19 health crisis, the economic, academic, and social inequities they experience have only deepened. Children in under-resourced communities of color are facing trauma that may affect them for the rest of their lives. 

For these students in New York City schools, the nonprofit Partnership with Children (PWC) and its trusted, Masters-level social workers have been on the front lines to guide them during the pandemic and beyond. Building on the consistent, nurturing safe environments in which they deliver mental health and social-emotional learning support with children in their own schools, PWC experts immediately started reaching students via tele-health as soon as schools closed.

They quickly became advocates and resources for food, Internet connection, and academic supports. Being able to see or speak to parents online also enabled them to help the families navigate through anxious times and develop creative skills-building activities for students at home.

And now as students are facing a summer with fewer resources available to them – and the very real threat of summer learning loss – PWC is working to deliver online arts enrichment in addition to continuing mental health and social-emotional learning supports.

CEO Margaret Crotty has led this 109-year old organization for eight years to become a national model in using state-of-the-art neuroscience to mitigate the insidious effects of chronic stress for the most under-served students. Its clinically trained team of social workers and family outreach workers provide crisis management, one-on-one and small-group counseling, and mentoring to students during the day. They also work to engage families connected with the student’s school and provide community support. 

Long-term, this holistic approach has the profound event of preventing chronic stress from becoming “toxic.” This is the neurological condition that creates a constant ‘fight, flight or flee’ mental state. For many young people, this affects the parts of their brain that enable them to think critically, make decisions, self-regulate and focus in school. It can also lead to behavioral issues and mental and physical health illnesses later in life. 

This toxic stress has become more pervasive as children of color have seen a disproportionate number of family members and neighbors hit with the COVID-19 virus.

“Toxic stress represents one of the greatest public health issues of our time – and during the COVID-19 crisis has become more threatening,” Crotty says. “It not only inhibits children’s ability to learn, it can cause lifelong health issues. In New York City, some 73 percent of children are growing up under the poverty line, and thus more likely to live in stressful conditions, with overburdened families and scarcity. When all our young people have resources and opportunities to reach their potential in school and beyond, our entire city benefits.”

The urgency of Partnership with Children’s mission is one reason why so many leaders in corporations, financial services and professional firms are committed to the depth and quality of the organization’s work.

PWC Board members represent Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, IBM, Verizon Wireless, GE, ESPN, Proskauer, EY and many more. 

“Our corporate partners are vital to our growth. We actively cultivate their strategic and management leadership in our Board discussions. We seek to demonstrate measurable results, drive innovation and find ways to expand our reach,” Crotty says.

Prior to the shutdown, PWC demonstrated an increase in attendance, class performance and graduation rates in K-12 schools across NYC. PWC outcomes show that 92 percent of PWC schools increased their English and math proficiency rates, almost all by over 10 percentage points. Growth in high school graduation rates for PWC schools outpaced city averages. And, 98 percent of PWC’s highest-need students were promoted to the next grade last year.

PWC recently announced an alliance with another like-minded organization, The Center for Arts Education, which provides research-based arts programming in schools and professional development for school leaders.

The two organizations work with over 100 schools and reach over 30,000 students. “Both Partnership with Children and The Center for Arts Education enhance the social-emotional learning and communication skills that prepare students for life. Together, we will reach more children, provide a broader array of programs, and make a deeper impact on the lives of students and their families,” said Crotty, who will lead both organizations.

This on-the-ground and strategic success is not surprising given Crotty’s training:  She has an MBA from Harvard, a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia, and an undergraduate degree from Princeton.

Prior to joining Partnership with Children, Crotty launched and ran Save the Children’s $2 billion initiative to reduce child mortality in the developing world. She serves on numerous health and education boards in New York and is a member of organizations such as the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). She is an author in Partnerships, featuring the perspectives of social workers and their students. 

Yet apart from business strategy, at its heart, Partnership with Children is about love. “That is the one true thing that inspires our work,” Crotty says. “It’s what ultimately lifts our students to succeed and sustains us as an organization.”  

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