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Beginning at Forestdale social service agency on 112th Street, reaching to Jamaica YMCA on Parsons Boulevard and over to the Department of Education’s District 29 office on Merrick Boulevard, then up Merrick to Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral, and reaching to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center on Van Wyck Expressway, a new web of caring for foster children, foster families and families in need of help is being woven in Jamaica, Queens.

This group of local organizations was one of three notified last week by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services that it was selected to initiate a coalition approach to protecting children and strengthening families under a new program called the Community Partnerships Initiative (CPI).

The program aims to create collaboration where there often has been fragmentation: rather than have a family involved with a variety of agencies that may not be talking to one another, the CPI attempts to institutionalize relationships and make inter-organization communication on matters large and small part of everyday life. This should identify gaps in service as well as improve delivery of current services.

The other coalitions chosen are headed by BridgeBuilders in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx and Brooklyn Perinatal Network in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“We wanted to take that next step of deepening our work with community coalitions,” said Anne Williams-Isom, ACS deputy commissioner for community and governmental relations. “An agency like ours really can’t do our work in isolation,” and has been working to deepen community relationships for several years, she said.

Williams-Isom said the initiative’s main goals are to promote “team conferencing,” or involving various community resources in discussions with families involved in foster care; to use community networks more in the recruitment of foster parents in the neighborhood; to facilitate more comfortable and productive visits between members of birth families and foster families; and to continue developing stronger local connections that can be leveraged to provide care.

The three coalitions selected are at the beginning of a multi-phase “innovative-demonstration project” process whose lessons ACS plans to use to inform the design of a major request for proposals for all foster care and preventive services to be issued in 2008.

At Forestdale, which provides services to about 360 foster children in the Jamaica area, Assistant Executive Director Camille Clark is hopeful that partnering with other “proven performers” locally will markedly enhance the services given to Forestdale’s clients.

“We feel the collective focus would give us a certain acuity in terms of the problem-solving,” Clark said. All the specifics are yet to be worked out, but hypothetically the new arrangement could benefit a foster family in Jamaica by providing the YMCA, for free or reduced rates, as a place to both to exercise and improve health, and to bond; the Cathedral as a place to participate in existing supportive youth programs and ministries;
set-aside doctor’s appointment times at the hospital, and special programs there to combat widespread problems such as obesity; and targeted educational support from the office of District 29 Community Superintendent Joanne Joyner-Wells.

Frederick Beekman, vice president for ambulatory care at Jamaica Hospital – which has been in the community for more than 100 years – said he sees developing a program of doctor’s visits, nutrition education and mental health care as a natural part of the institution’s mission.

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