Tag Archives: behavioral health

Photo of the Month: Supporting Young Children and Their Families

CEO Traci Donnelly with a client of our Perintal Intensive Outpatient Program for families with postpartum depression and other challenges

Child Center of NY CEO Traci Donnelly with a client of the Macari Perinatal Intensive Outpatient Program for families with postpartum depression and other challengesWe can’t get enough of the engagement, connection, and plain old cuteness in this photo! Pictured here are Child Center Chief Executive Officer Traci Donnelly with 19-month-old Lula.

Lula and her mom are clients of The Child Center of NY’s Perinatal Intensive Outpatient Program, which supports parents who are pregnant or have recently given birth and may be experiencing Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, more commonly known as Postpartum Depression.

“Nearly 80 percent of people who have recently given birth experience what we commonly call the ‘baby blues.’ This is a temporary condition that can cause the new parent to feel sad, exhausted, and stressed, even as they are filled with love for their baby,” explains Beverly Gould, director of the perinatal program. “In some cases, time and the support of family and friends can help a new mom through this transitional period. But sometimes what a mom is experiencing is actually a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. This is more intense, serious, long-lasting, and can cause the parent to feel hopeless and disconnected from their baby. In these cases, more help is needed.”

Our perinatal and early childhood mental health teams know that the love these parents have for their babies is deep and enduring, and that with the right skills and support, parents with postpartum depression and other challenges can become the confident, healthy, and loving parents they want to be for their babies.

In honor of the Week of the Young Child earlier this month, The Child Center is proud to support young children like Lula and their families with programs like the perinatal program, as well as in our early childhood education programs, and throughout the organization.

For more information on any of our programs that support young children and their families, give us a call! We tailor our services to each family’s needs and help children and parents learn, grow, and support each other together.

National Social Work Month: Q&A with Gerda Gonzalez, LMSW, School-Based Clinical Coordinator

Gerda Gonzalez, a social worker at the school-based mental health center at Pam American International High School, presents at a CIOB event on self-harm.
Gerda Gonzalez, a social worker at the school-based mental health center at Pam American International High School, presents at a CIOB event on self-harm.

Gerda presenting at the Consortium, Internationals, and NYC Outward Bound (CIOB) Schools counseling meeting last month.

The road Gerda Gonzalez, LMSW, took professionally to become a social worker was not a straight path, but today, she’s confident it led her to the right destination.

Gerda serves as school-based clinical coordinator at Pan American International High School in Elmhurst, Queens. She manages the school’s mental health wellness center and also sees clients in therapy.

The Child Center of NY provides school-based mental health (SBMH) services at 11 NYC public schools. In-school counseling programs overcome common barriers to mental health treatment by offering services to young people in the convenient space of their schools. The Child Center’s SBMH programs operate on three levels: mental health educational services to the entire school community, selective services with children who might be at risk, and targeted services in the form of therapy.

Pan American International High School is home to students who have immigrated to the United States within the past four years. As a first-generation American who lived outside the U.S. for part of her childhood, Gerda understands the challenges and traumas young people face when they arrive in a new country with an unfamiliar culture and language. In honor of Social Work Month, we asked Gerda about the role social work plays in easing the transition for these young immigrants so they can develop positive coping strategies and flourish.

The Child Center of NY: You told us you never intended to become a social worker. How did that happen?

 Gerda Gonzalez, LMSW: Both of my parents are immigrants. My mother is from Bolivia, and my father is from Spain. Spanish was the only language spoken in my home growing up. I started first grade here in the U.S., but I grew up for some years in Spain and returned to the U.S. when I was in 10th grade. When it was time to choose a career path, I knew I wanted to help kids that age, so I became an English teacher. I taught ninth and 10th grade English for two years. I realized I didn’t like the teaching aspect as much as I liked interacting with students and supporting them with their emotional needs. A lot of them would come to me and tell me what they were going through, and I didn’t have the skills to support them. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do: become a social worker.

What led you to The Child Center?

I got an internship with Yessenia Rodriguez at The Child Center’s old Elmhurst Clinic. This was in March 2020—right at the beginning of the [COVID-19] pandemic! But mental health services are considered essential, so the work of the clinic never stopped. I worked with families with children ages 0-5. We did a lot of work around providing guidance to parents so they could develop their parenting skills and best support their kids. When I completed the internship, Yessenia was like, I don’t want The Child Center to lose you! She was transitioning to the perinatal program. Since it was new, there weren’t any positions available, but Yessenia alerted me to openings elsewhere at The Child Center. Due to my background as a teacher and first-generation American, I applied for a school-based mental health position at Pan American. That was in January 2021, and I’ve been here ever since!

What kind of mental health issues are you seeing at your school?

The population I work with is mostly students who have been in the U.S. for less than 4 years. I can kind of put myself in their position. Coming to a new country in the middle of high school is a big transition. There is definitely immigration trauma. Students often come from really difficult circumstances, left family behind who they really loved, and are in a completely new environment. All of those pieces create a cluster of trauma. Here, there is an individualistic approach that is unfamiliar to people from Central and South America, where the culture is more about the group, everyone working together, supporting each other. Here it’s more about doing things on your own and what you can accomplish individually. For example, in the countries they come from, you get eggs from your aunt, milk from a neighbor … everyone helps each other out. When families come here, they have to get used to everything being more separate.

Of course, there is also the language issue. All students at Pan American speak Spanish and learn English as they go through high school. I provide therapy in both languages. In therapy, you want to be comfortable, you don’t want language to be a barrier, so usually sessions are in Spanish. But by 12th grade, some students choose to have sessions in English.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of self-harm. During the pandemic, and now from the effects of the pandemic, there has been a lot of depression and risk of suicide. With time, I’m seeing more anxiety and self-harm. Students often don’t know how to manage their emotions. Self-harm is their coping strategy. It’s easier to think about negative coping strategies than positive ones. It’s quicker, you immediately feel relief, and so you end up resorting to that instead of trying positive methods, which they may not be aware of since they are not as popular in the media and other aspects of their life.

What are some positive coping strategies you help students develop?

Deep breathing exercises, art as a medium, going for a walk, exercising, creating positive self-talk … even writing on a sticker, “You’ve got this today!” can help shape your day and manage your emotions. Journaling is another great strategy. When students feel overwhelmed, I help them create a list—seeing it in writing makes it easier for them to understand how to shape their day—and understand time management.

You recently presented on self-harm at the Consortium, Internationals, and Outward Bound (CIOB) Schools counseling support meeting. Please tell us about it!

The meeting was for social workers and counselors to discuss building a culture of prevention and how to support students who are self-harming. I do presentations here at Pan American—it’s part of the work I do here as lead clinical coordinator. So when Tania Romero, supervisor of social workers at CIOB schools, needed speakers for the event, my colleague Karla Pina, a social worker on the school guidance team, said, “I thought of you immediately!” I said yes because I see so much of it [self-harm].

I think it went well. I was able to present to school social workers and guidance team members from more than 15 different schools in the NYC area, so that was very exciting. It was a great opportunity to talk about self-harm; there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings around it. For example, there is a myth that students who self-harm are suicidal, but that’s not always the case. Many don’t want to die; they are self-harming so as not to get to that point. They are more at risk to consider suicide, but they still have hope, which is important to highlight, and to work from.

Can you talk about a particularly memorable or rewarding experience as a social worker?

Of course, there’s Breinny! There is also a student I started working with when he was in 10th grade. He was from Colombia, from a town full of gang violence. When he came here, he had a survival mentality because of what he faced in his home country. His anxiety was very bad; he struggled to sit still and experienced panic attacks. He didn’t care about his classes or studying; he wanted to leave school and start working so he could help his grandma, still in Colombia, financially.

We worked together until he graduated last year. He learned to manage his anxiety very well—I say “manage” because anxiety never goes away, you just learn how to manage it—so that it no longer affected his day-to-day activities. He also started realizing goals he had for himself. He realized he loved photography. I encouraged him to think about what it would look like if he studied, the possibilities that could give him for the future. That helped him with the motivation piece. He was very bright, but he didn’t know how to use his intelligence in a way that benefited him. I connected him to resources at school—one of the wonderful things about Pan American is all the resources to support students!—to help him with his classes. He put in the effort and got his grades up. I encouraged him to apply to college. One of the schools he was interested in was FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology], for fashion photography. It seemed like a great fit. He got in, and he’s at FIT right now!

That is wonderful! It really speaks to the rewards of social work. As we all know, there are also challenges. What are some of the challenges you have experienced as a social worker?

For me, one of the biggest challenges is wanting to be able to do more and just not being able to, due to time constraints and limited availability. We have a waitlist for students, and it weighs on me. I would love to be able to service them all, but I know that I cannot take on more clients with my current caseload. As a whole, I believe that some of the struggles of being a social worker, in general, center around wanting more resources for your clients than what is available.

Are you glad you became a social worker?

Yes, I’m very glad! Through the work I am doing—even if it is on a micro level—I am making a difference for my clients and their families. As the daughter of immigrants, being able to work with adolescents who recently arrived in the country fills me with purpose and hope that we all are continuing to work toward creating a healthier environment for everyone in New York City. Aside from this, the time I have spent being a social worker also has helped me to reflect on myself and my own identity in a way that I might not have been able to do otherwise—especially as a first generation American.

Photo of the Month: Military Services

From left to right: John Coppola, Co-CEO of InUnity Alliance (formerly the NYS Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers); and the Child Center Military Services Team: Senior Director Julia Floyd; Edgardo Quinones, LCSW-R, Director of Family Therapy Services and Integrated Care Coordination; and Master Social Worker Xinling Yang, MSW

Veterans Day is a time to remember and honor the service and selflessness of members of our military. It is also a time to honor our commitment to them and their families. That is why this November, the team of our new Military Services initiative traveled to Saratoga Springs for the Ninth Annual Veterans Summit: “Front Sight Focused: Healing the Past for a Successful Future,” sponsored by the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (now InUnity Alliance).

“The conference provided a great opportunity to establish meaningful connections with allied services. We connected with various military services, heard inspiring stories of veterans benefiting from these connections, and we are eager to collaborate moving forward,” says Xinling Yang, MSW, who provides therapy to Military Services clients. “This new offering at The Child Center is a chance for us to make a tangible difference in the lives of veterans, their families, and their children, recognizing that family plays a crucial role in veterans’ reintegration into society. It’s an honor to stand by them and ensure they receive the support they truly deserve.”

Thanks to a grant from Mother Cabrini Health Foundation (MCHF), The Child Center is now providing Military Services at each of our three wellness centers. This new service is designed to honor and support those who served our nation, regardless of discharge, by providing specialized outpatient mental health and other services tailored to their unique needs. As with all Child Center programming, we take a whole-family approach: Supporting affected children and other family members is integral to our services.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to shed light on the vital work that we do at The Child Center. To me, it’s fundamentally clear that when an individual makes the selfless decision to serve this country, their commitment is shared by their entire family. It’s a service that extends beyond the individual to their loved ones, and it’s this understanding that has driven us to develop dedicated services for families and veterans.

The experiences of those who serve are varied and complex, and the impacts on their families are equally so. Whether it’s a veteran returning home bearing emotional or physical scars, or a family member grappling with the anxiety and fear of their loved one’s return, we recognize the unique challenges they face.

As the daughter of two people who served in the military, I’ve experienced firsthand the diverse effects their service had as I grew up. It instilled in me a deep understanding of the importance of supporting the family members, particularly the children. It’s essential that we provide them with the resources to understand, cope with, and process their experiences.”

—Julia Floyd, Senior Program Director and longest standing member on the ASAP Veterans Planning Committee 

The Military Services team was excited to spread the word about this new offering to the veterans community and connect with other providers around the state at the conference. And conference attendees were excited to see how The Child Center’s Military Services have made serving the entire family a centerpiece of their approach.

“At the ‘Front Sight Focused’ conference, we gathered to discuss how we could strengthen services for veterans,” says John Coppola, Co-CEO of InUnity Alliance. “The Child Center was a strong voice at the conference and is a leader in efforts to ensure that the entire family receives attention when a veteran is in need. With programs like the NY Certification Board’s Veteran Supported Recovery and The Child Center’s Military Services, there is hope that veterans and their families will get the support and healing they need.”

Our Military Services team sees this new initiative, and especially the emphasis on the family, as an idea whose time has come and the fulfillment of a goal they all have shared.

“When I think about military services it takes me to a larger perspective: the family,” says Edgardo Quinones, LCSW-R, Director of Family Therapy Services and Integrated Care Coordination at The Child Center’s Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens. “When providing services, there is a parent, a sibling, or other relative that is reintegrating into the family system after deployment, and the function and functioning of the family system changes. Many times, the client is not aware of the impact the reentry has on the different members, including the veteran.”

Edgardo knows about this firsthand. “I am the child of a WWII veteran. Since my father’s deployment and discharge from the Army happened many years before I was born, I never connected some of my dad’s behaviors to the military. I just thought he was a strict guy who was setting me and my siblings ‘straight.’ The conference helped me better understand my dad and bring a new perspective into our dynamics and relationship. I am not able to share my insights with him since he has passed on, but I hope it will help me help those families going through similar experiences.”

If you or a loved one served in the military, regardless of discharge, and think you and your family might benefit from these services, please call us at 718-358-8288 or email us at ChildCenterNYintake@childcenterny.org. We stand ready to help you build the future you see for yourself and your family!

Danny’s Story


Danny is a talented, hardworking young man who mentors youth in his community and enjoys practicing martial arts. One day while walking home from school, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was involved in a tragic incident. As a result, Danny got caught up in the justice system through no fault of his own. Part of his court mandate was going to therapy, which he got at our Residential Treatment Facility and Cohen Family Wellness Center. Now he pays it forward by serving as an advocate for himself and other young people. Danny was a featured speaker at The Child Center of NY’s 70th anniversary gala. Below are his prepared remarks. You also can watch the video above to hear him tell his story at the gala.

Hello, everyone. Tonight, I am here as an advocate. The Child Center invests in young people and their families, and they supported me when I needed it. The Child Center provided me with a great outlet. I did therapy for two years with a counselor who really helped me. I have experienced several challenges and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that support. I will share my story to show you that when you invest in young people, you help them live healthy, fulfilling lives. Young people can be positive influences on other young people and be change agents in their communities. I am living proof of that. I have a much longer story to tell, but I will make it brief for you.  

 I have a brother who struggles with mental disorder and it made my home life very difficult. He’s been in psychiatric facilities since he was little, and he missed out on his childhood. He is impulsive and has violent tendencies, so I was always in survival mode. I pressured myself to protect my baby brother from our older brother. I worried about his safety. My mother is a single mother, and I did everything for my baby brother while she was at work. 

 The situation at home made me depressed and I was having trouble in school. I used to be a good student, but I was skipping classes and it was really out of character. Things were really rocky.  

 When I was sixteen years old, there was an incident where I was stabbed while walking home and it was a case of mistaken identity. I study martial arts and I defended myself. Unfortunately, the other person ended up partially paralyzed. And because both of our fingerprints were on the knife, we were both charged with attempted murder. This incident occurred at the height of the pandemic. And because of COVID regulations, my case moved slowly, the court date was delayed, and I was held in a detention center for over 8 months.  

 My family usually doesn’t show their emotions. But the day I was sentenced, I saw my family express their emotions for the first time and cry. I felt horrible.  

 Luckily, the house across the street had surveillance cameras and video was able to show everything that happened. My innocence was proven. The court expunged the case.  

 But the judge determined that because of the injuries inflicted on the other person were so severe, I used excessive force. She recommended that as part of my probation, I go to the Child Center’s Residential Treatment Facility, which also houses justice-involved youth. Part of the court mandate was that I go to therapy.  

 Therapy was a lifeline for me. After that whole experience, I have made big changes in my life. I made an effort to stay away from negative influences. I learned who I could trust and lost a lot of friends in the process. I moved out of the city and dedicated myself to becoming better. It’s gotten better. Through therapy, I’ve explored parts of myself I didn’t even know I had. I used to live in the past and I lost myself. I’ve learned to think ahead now.  

 I’m studying to get my real estate license and am an assistant manager at a retail store located near a middle school. The kids I see every day who come into my store, I can relate to them, I give them advice. Mentoring comes naturally to me. I was also a martial arts instructor. I used to visit schools and teach kids self-defense. I enjoyed this very much and plan to continue mentoring kids in the future. 

 I also visit my little brother and take him out, do fun things together because he should enjoy a normal childhood. My therapist taught me that it’s not about the time, it’s about the quality of the time you spend with someone. My little brother is six years old now, and he still calls me “Dad’ to this day because he sees me as a Dad. I’ve been a consistent – and the only – father figure in his life.  

 The Child Center showed me how to cope, distract myself from negative thoughts and identify what is going on. I can pursue a more normal life now. My coping skills, being able to identify problems, have helped me. Through my mental health counseling, I look at everything now with a different lens. When I look at friends, I ask, what baggage do I carry, what baggage do they carry? How can we help each other?  

 All the things I’ve learned at The Child Center enable me to pursue my dreams. I can work on my goals, be there for my family and have the tools to overcome challenges.  

 Like I said in the beginning, I am here as an advocate to tell my story and shed light on what’s happening with our youth. I am here as a testament. Our work here as a community is imperative to youth, especially those who’ve been given a bad hand, through no fault of their own. This is the way to lift each other up and build a brighter future, together. Thank you. 

Team Spotlight: Abraham Santana, MSW, on Creating a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Youth

Child Center of NY Social Worker Abraham Santana works with LGBTQ+ youth at the Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens

Abraham, a social worker at The Child Center of NY

The Child Center began in 1953 as a single children’s counseling center, based on ideas that were ahead of their time: that children could need mental health services; that serving whole families is a critical component of serving children; and that serving the larger community is at the crux of it all. Seventy years later, we remain as committed as ever to serving the communities—geographic and social—that need us.

Right now, the LGBTQ+ community needs us. Continue reading

Jonathan’s Story

Below is a speech that Jonathan delivered during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Cohen Family Wellness Center. You can listen to additional thoughts that Jonathan shared during an interview with amNY, above. Credit: amNY, Kyle Sweeting, and Jason Schwartz.

Hello everyone, my name is Jonathan, and I have been involved with The Child Center for about three years.

To begin my journey, I started with Zoom calls due to the pandemic and restrictions placed by COVID-19. The resources provided by The Child Center helped with resolving many of the issues I was suffering from and helped me overcome major challenges that were tied to my anxiety.

It took me a while to warm up to my therapist due to the unusual circumstances, but when I became comfortable, that’s when my journey decided to pick up speed.

When I went to the clinic for the first time, I was tense and overwhelmed. Due to the country opening up and returning from a remote environment to an in-person environment, I was on edge and all over the place. I was worried that I would lose all the progress I had made during the Zoom sessions. But my therapist helped me ease my worries and helped me with my transition to this new life.

At the time, I was scared of everything happening around me, afraid of change, and intimidated by the smallest challenges that life presented. Although these problems never seem to cease, the ways to manage these stressors were some skills that I would eventually pick up in my therapy sessions.

Jonathan with Amazin' Mets representatives at the Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens

Jonathan (second from left) at the grand opening of the Cohen Family Wellness Center. Learn more: childcenterny.org/photo-of-the-month-cohen-family-wellness-center/

The [Cohen] Family Wellness Center created the resources necessary for my improvement. I felt like I had no cure, and although it seemed like that at the time, I would later be proven wrong.

I learned that I was not the only person to have these uncomfortable symptoms. I was not the only person to live this type of way. I was not alone in this struggle.

This sense of belonging would bring me great comfort, allowing optimism back into my life once again. This place helped me grow, helped me change into someone that I am proud to be.

I would have never imagined the progress I would have made; it still amazes me today.

I would like to happily share that due to the progress I made at this place, I was able to accomplish some achievements that I could have never possibly imagined. This would include my role as valedictorian for my class of 2023, and being a Macaulay Scholar attending Queens College in the fall, majoring in psychology to pursue a passion of being a therapist or clinical psychologist. This passion was inspired by my time at The Child Center.

To end things off, I would like to thank my therapist, Abraham, and my psychiatrist, Dr. Yang, along with my parents and siblings who supported me through this journey. I do not know what type of person I would be without them.

Thank you.

Mental Health Awareness Month: The Crisis Among Our Children, Three Years After the COVID-19 Pandemic Began

Governor Hochul at mental health plan announcement

By Linda Rodriguez, SVP, Behavioral Health, Early Childhood, and Community Partnerships

Governor Hochul at mental health plan announcement

A photo of Governor Kathy Hochul announcing her mental health plan, taken by the blog author

As a multiservice organization that provides mental health treatment and support to young New Yorkers, before March 2020 we were busy, serving more than 40,000 New Yorkers annually through our behavioral health, early childhood education, youth development, and other programs across the city. Since then, the intensity of our work has profoundly escalated. Continue reading

Photo of the Month: Welcome to the Cohen Family Wellness Center!

Ribbon cutting of the Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens
Ribbon cutting of the Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens

From left to right: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards; New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan; Child Center of NY Vice Chair Samuel Freed; Executive Vice Chair Dick Jay; Board Chair Adam H. Schwartz; CEO Traci Donnelly; Julianna Sabra, Co-Head, Foundation and Community Engagement of the Amazin’ Mets Foundation; Alex Cohen (center, cutting the ribbon); Jeanne Melino, Executive Director of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation; NYC Council Member Julie Won; Congresswoman Grace Meng; Child Center client Jonathan; Jane Son, Co-Head, Foundation and Community Engagement of the Amazin’ Mets Foundation; and Assemblymember Steven Raga. Photo credit: Michael Dorgan, amNewYork/QueensPost.

We cut the ribbon at the state-of-the-art Cohen Family Wellness Center (CFWC) in Woodside, Queens, this month, and we couldn’t be happier, prouder, or more grateful! Continue reading

Social Work Month 2023: Why I Am a Social Worker

By Anita Sanehi, LCSW
School-Based Clinical Coordinator

School-based Clinical Coordinator Anita Sanehi (right) with her client Kayla

As an eager teenager majoring in sociology and psychology, I began working as a youth counselor at the afterschool program in J.H.S 185.

Every stage of life has its own importance, and even though I was still a young adult, I believed in the powerful impact of childhood. Schools have a great opportunity to be a safe haven and steady support for many students. Sometimes students spend more time at school than with their families. Continue reading


Recent Blog Posts

Translate »