Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Bill Baccaglini is in his third year leading the New York Foundling.

Giving children a chance by offering a safe haven

By Lori Haught

One of the oldest and largest child welfare agencies in the city, New York Foundling is located in the heart of Chelsea. It was started by the order of the Sisters of Charity in the 1860s as a place for children orphaned by the Civil War.

Under the leadership of Bill Baccaglini, who has been its executive director the last three years, New York Foundling is continuing to thrive at the start of the 21st century.

Baccaglini was the director of strategic planning and policy for the New York State Office of Children and family services three and a half years ago when a headhunter approached him to become director of the New York Foundling, at 590 Sixth Ave.

“When you do what I do, you don’t turn down an opportunity to head the Foundling,” he said of leaving his comfortable position in Albany and moving to Battery Park City with his wife and 8-year-old daughter at the time to take the new job.

The Foundling, formerly known as the New York Foundling Hospital, is a $75 million operation with a staff of about 1,000 and hundreds of volunteers, serving 13,000 children and families each year.

It provides the gamut of child welfare services from a Crisis Nursery to a group home for hard-to-place children who are in the foster-care system.

At the Crisis Nursery, parents at the end of their ropes can drop their children off 24 hours a day with the promise that the kids will be well taken care of; the children can stay for up to 21 days while the organization helps the parents deal with physical or mental needs to get them back on their feet. The nursery has a capacity for 10 children at a time and is short term, with the promise of reuniting the family with no involvement from the government.

“We focus on allowing the kids to stay with their families, with an emphasis on making sure it’s a safe environment for the kids,” Baccaglini said.

Baccaglini said the city’s renewed focus on preventative services against child abuse is a welcome change from years past when the focus was on dealing with problems after they had occurred.

The Foundling’s goal is to prevent child abuse before it happens, with programs like the Crisis Nursery and the new Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection in Greenwich Village. But that’s not to say that abuse doesn’t persist: Another program at the Foundling, Blaine Hall, takes in foster-care kids who have been abused and assesses them in a coed living situation to best determine that their next placement is a permanent and successful one.

“Some of these kids come in and things have happened to them by the age of 6 that we can’t even imagine,” Baccaglini said of Blaine Hall.

Last week, while leading a reporter on a tour of Blaine Hall, he walked through the halls asking the children about school and what they had planned for their evening.

The Blaine Hall program has a capacity for 15 children. Throughout their stay the children go to school at the Foundling (so they can be observed in a school environment), sleep two to a room there, eat their dinners in a little kitchen and can enjoy two recreation rooms filled with books and games, as well as two flat-screen televisions donated by the Elf Foundation of Hollywood, Cal.

“We try and make it as homelike as possible,” Baccaglini said of the rooms, painted colorfully and sporting superhero bedspreads, and the kitchen with round tables with tablecloths at which the children eat.

One of little boys eagerly joined in, acting as tour guide.

“This is my desk!” he exclaimed.

“Do you have homework tonight?” Baccaglini asked.

“Noooo!” he exclaimed, scampering off down the hall toward the bedrooms, leaving Baccaglini laughing.

“This is my room!” He flopped down on his bed. “I haven’t cleaned, though,” the boy said of the small mess in his open closet. Because a consent form had not been signed for him — as was the case with many of the children — the boy’s name could not be printed here and his face could not be photographed.

All of the children seemed happy in their temporary little home. And Baccaglini watched them with a certain light in his eyes.

Baccaglini is right in line with the Foundling’s mission, which, in short, is to make life better for children and insure their future is a bright and happy one. The 44 programs the Foundling offers serve everyone from abandoned and abused children to adults with developmental disorders who came into the Foundling’s care as children and have remained as the organization has adapted to fit their needs. The Foundling also runs a program to help the deaf function better in the general population, in which six teenage girls are currently participating — the only program of its kind in New York City.

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