Nonprofit, Children, Child Abuse, Race And Ethnicity, Foster Care, Administration For Children's Services Nyc, Nyc

Nonprofit, Children

A Fiji Junket, a Padlocked Office and a Pioneering Nonprofit’s Collapse

The Child Welfare Organizing Project gave New York parents a voice in a complex system. Now it is mired in scandal.


Board members say the Child Welfare Organizing Project, a New York City nonprofit that was once heralded as a national model, is regrouping. Former employees say it is only a few thousand dollars away from disappearing altogether.

The Child Welfare Organizing Project gave New York parents a voice in a complex system. Now it is mired in scandal.

were approved this year by the New York State Legislature. And two former employees now hold key positions in the Administration for Children’s Services, the city’s child welfare agency.

It also underscored how difficult it can be to maintain continuity, let alone accomplish growth, in a group where parents with little to no managerial experience were entrusted with making policy decisions, and had to collaborate with the larger child welfare universe.

“I’m not sorry they are closing,” said Ms. McMillan, 53. “I will deliver the eulogy at their funeral.”

With the financial help of a wealthy friend who wanted to remain anonymous, Mr. Tobis helped to create the Child Welfare Organizing Project. Recruiting parents was, at first, slow going, said

But the climate changed drastically in November 1995, after the

Suddenly, low-income parents were given more scrutiny, and there was a rise in the number of children placed in foster

The nonprofit initially tapped activists like Mabel Paulino, whose family had been affected by child welfare, to take the helm, Ms. Mizrahi said. Then the organization turned to Michael Arsham, then a 40-something social worker.

was at its best when it acted as a friendly foe of the city Administration for Children’s Services.

Mr. Arsham left the nonprofit in 2013 to join the city child welfare agency as director of the Office of Advocacy, which serves as a sort of ombudsman fielding concerns and complaints.

Ms. Killett, 57, stood apart from her predecessors; she had a long personal history with the city’s child welfare system: Her sons had been removed from her care years earlier. She is also black; Mr. Tobis, Mr. Arsham and Professor Mizrahi are white.

since it was created in 1996 have been white men. Few women or people of color lead the foster care agencies with the largest contracts in the city.

But she said she got pushback when she wanted parents to be more aggressive with the city. “They thought I would come in and fall in line,” she said, adding later, “I started thinking this is not for me. Every day I wanted to quit.”

The organization once again had to reshuffle, and Ms. McMillan, a longtime parent volunteer, became director of programming. Eventually, Ms. Haynes, a board chairwoman

Ms. Haynes, a real estate broker and actress, was an adoptive parent and had a master’s degree in business administration. “I was just coming from a place of someone who wanted to help,” said Ms. Haynes, 51.

to see Mr. Robbins, for additional training for herself.

Ms. Haynes described an organization that could turn parents’ personal trauma into tangible gains in child welfare. She said Ms. McMillan, who is facing accusations that she harassed other employees, had “good ideas about policy.”

“They’ve worked through their trauma. They’ve had therapy. They don’t explode,”

The nonprofit is exploring merging with another group, Ms. Mizrahi said. But with the group sidelined for now,

Mr. Tobis, 75, who wrote a book about the nonprofit’s influence called “From Pariahs to Partners,” allowed that perhaps the group had run its course.

autonomy. “You don’t have to follow their lead,” she said.

Read more: The New York Times

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