A Legacy of Change
ABC has always been committed to speaking out on behalf of vulnerable children, amplifying each small voice into a resounding chorus calling for positive change. Through innovative programs and by speaking out in open forums, circulating special reports, and defending the rights of children in need, ABC has extended its impact well beyond the borders of New York City, changing the landscape for children across the nation and in several places around the globe.
Inclusionary Education For Preschoolers with Disabilities
ABC's educational advocacy began with Merricat's Castle School - the national inclusionary model for preschool education. Through a hard-fought victory in the courts, ABC helped establish the right to integrated classrooms for young children with disabilities, which subsequently became policy nationwide. Because of ABC's efforts, typically-developing children and children with special needs, children of privilege and children who live in poverty, play, learn, and grow together in the same classroom.
During the prosperous ‘80’s, when large numbers of hungry children began appearing in the shadows, searching for leftovers in dumpsters outside supermarkets, ABC publicly exposed the growing hunger crisis amongst children while simultaneously we developed a model, cost-effective, emergency food program in collaboration with The Church of the Holy Trinity and other local churches, synagogues, and schools. Tapping into existing resources, in 1982, ABC established a hot meal program, the Yorkville Soup Kitchen, in a city school, PS 151. Utilizing the school’s facilities and personnel made it possible to replicate the kitchen across the city. Tens of thousands of nutritious meals were prepared for hungry children and families daily in the same kitchens that were already providing meals for school children. Today, ABC continues to fight hunger through its many hot, nutritious meal programs.
Family Rights and Model Housing
Advocacy on behalf of families began with a campaign for services for the most vulnerable, those battling to stay afloat and intact, with a class action suit filed in 1985, which sought to compel the state to provide preventive services such as housing and day care without opening child-protective cases. Continuing this critical work, ABC’s Preventive Services program, All Children’s House, brings these essential services to desperate and seriously at-risk families.
In the mid-1980’s, as neighborhoods gentrified and vacancies in low-income housing all but disappeared, ABC exposed the deplorable conditions homeless families faced living in abandoned buildings, squalid, dangerous, and expensive “welfare hotels” and barracks-style shelters. ABC set the standard for decent transitional housing by using the same funding the government had squandered to transform a dilapidated building in East Harlem into Rosie and Harry’s Place. This cost-effective, temporary housing program became the replicable model throughout the state and the country. And, as the first to secure government funding that had not been used before to build permanent supportive housing, ABC broke new ground in creating a housing model for homeless families living with HIV/AIDS.
Since 1987, ABC has fought alongside the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty through a national class action lawsuit brought to ensure the enactment of the McKinney Vento Act. In recent years, ABC has renewed its efforts to preserve the integrity of McKinney Vento, which remains the only major federal legislation designed to prevent and end homelessness in the United States. Under this law, homeless children are guaranteed school enrollment and educational stability.
An End to "Boarding" Babies at Hospitals
By the late ‘80’s, cheap street cocaine and AIDS were sweeping through urban neighborhoods, leaving the poor especially hard-hit. Women were routinely arrested, incarcerated, and had their parental rights terminated. Unprecedented numbers of their infants were warehoused in hospital wards, left there to languish for months on end, often tethered to their cribs to “keep them safe.” To end this cruel and expensive practice, ABC brought two class-action lawsuits in 1987 and 1991 against the city and state. This landmark litigation, coupled with ABC’s efforts to educate the public, helped rescue “boarder babies” across the nation. ABC created Cody Gifford House as a replicable model program, which demonstrated that medically-fragile infants, entitled to and in great need of stable loving families, could live safely and happily at home.
Health Care Reform
In the mid-1990’s, when crucial progress had been made in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, ABC focused its efforts on the critical need for early identification, counseling, and treatment. In 1994, ABC’s class action lawsuits secured counseling, testing, and treatment for children in foster care and its 1995 class action lawsuit secured routine HIV testing for all newborns in New York, mandated hospitals to counsel pregnant women on the benefits of HIV testing, and provided treatment and counseling for HIV positive infants, their mothers, and other family members and caregivers. Both lawsuits have contributed to the substantial reduction in the number of infants born with HIV infection and rescued the lives of children with HIV/AIDS, maintaining their well-being into adulthood. In 2015, it was reported that zero HIV infections passed from mother to child for an entire year.
ABC has long fought for improved children’s health and mental health care, winning an important victory in federal court in 2002 for all homeless children who suffer from asthma. Those affected are guaranteed outreach, early and free periodic screening, a primary care provider, diagnosis and corrective treatment, and educational counseling. These benefits eliminate needless suffering and ensure that a potentially debilitating condition does not go undiagnosed or untreated. After a decade of offering crucial mental health services to New York City's most vulnerable children and families, ABC officially launched Fast Break in 1996. Fast Break was New York City’s first mobile mental health crisis and disaster team specifically designed to provide children living in poverty access to treatment.