The fund is giving out $1.25 million in its first round. Photo: Pexels

Some of Brooklyn’s most vulnerable children and parents are about to get a helping hand with the opening of a new play-therapy program in Bed-Stuy.

On Monday, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) announced the official opening of the Group Attached-Based Intervention (GABI) program at 485 Throop Ave. in Bed-Stuy.

(L to R) Dr. Anne Murphy, ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell and ACS Deputy Commissioner of Family Prevention Services Dr. Jacqueline Martin. Photo: NYC Administration for Children’ Services

The program is reportedly one of the innovative ways the ACS’ is trying to change its sometime-threatening image among low-income families of color.

The program serves families who have experienced significant trauma, housing instability, mental illness, domestic violence and other challenges that make parenting a small child tough.

GABI comes to Bed-Stuy

Brooklyn is the last of the five boroughs to get the program, which helps caregivers build strong bonds with their children age zero to three years old. Its play-therapy model offers play for babies and toddlers and therapy for caregivers.

By attending the GABI program, families can also access free diapers, warm meals, transportation, strollers, breast pumps, newborn baby items and pack & plays. 

Once a year, GABI holds a holiday gift drive where families are provided with toys and clothing. Photo: Pexels.

At the sessions — which run for two hours and are offered on a “drop-in” basis — parents can expect to come into a space that resembles a playroom, where they will be introduced to others in the group who might be facing similar challenges.

Clinicians then get parents to join their child in playtime and reflect on their interaction. Then the group moves to a parent-only therapy session and a child-only play session, each facilitated by clinician.

The ACS was excited to bring the service to Brooklyn, ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said, especially during the pandemic.

“GABI is a unique program because it blends trauma-informed therapy with the everyday joys of being a parent, which includes spending quality time playing with your child,” he said.

A different approach

The program was developed in 2010 by Dr. Anne Murphy, Director of the Rose F. Kennedy Under Five Trauma Services Program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. In 2017, ACS partnered with her to expand the program and open centers in every borough, particularly in areas with frequent reports of  abuse or neglect.

“GABI helps parents achieve their wish to be a “different kind of parent” so their children feel special, loved and protected,” Murphy said. “The GABI team holds every parent in our hearts so stresses subside and love and protection already inside every parent can shine through embracing their children with warmth and affection.”

Several sets of children and caregivers receive the same session simultaneously, allowing parents to connect with others experiencing similar challenges. Photo: Pexels

As reported in The New Republic, the ACS has previously fostered distrust among many low-income families of color, with the reputation of sometimes separating parents from their kids.

In a 2019 article, the publication reported that most mothers at a Staten Island group session attended were not there out of choice, but because they had open prevention cases with the child welfare agency.

It said the goal of the program was to support parents to keep problems from escalating to the point where children need to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

While the services are held at the center, the program is also being offered via Telehealth due to the pandemic. Photo: Pexels

Despite this, the Staten Island mothers said they viewed the GABI program as “completely different” from the ACS, which they felt afraid of. GABI is seen as one in a handful of experimental programs to change ACS’s image from that of an agency that unfairly targets poor and non-white families, to a resource families can turn to in times of trouble.

New York City Deputy Mayor Melanie Hartzog said ACS was making vital resources and health-related services more accessible to parents in Brooklyn through the program.

“The opening of this new GABI site in Brooklyn demonstrates New York City’s support and commitment to families in need.”

The ACS told the BK Reader that ACS-involved families involved with prevention services can access the new GABI center in Bed-Stuy. Other families can contact someone from GABI directly at (347) 899-5450.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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