Harlem Children's Zone

Harlem Children's Zone

What Is the Harlem Children's Zone?

The Harlem Children’s Zone works with families in 100-square blocks in East Harlem, New York City. It seeks to provide direct services to children, while simultaneously helping parents become better and more self-sufficient parents. It aggressively reaches out to families, offering incentives and achieving significant participation. The Harlem Children's Zone has received considerable recognition for its ambitious goals and results. (See, e.g., New York Times Magazine.)

Some critical elements of the Harlem's Children Zone are:

  • Parents and community members are involved in early phases of the project. Parents are viewed as part of the solution, not the problem.
  • Trusted members of the community keep in regular contact with families, who are therefore more likely to take advantage of the services offered.
  • Services provide the basic supports that help all families succeed, preventing the need for more intensive interventions.
  • All families in a geographic area are included, starting with families with young children.
  • There is strong, charismatic leadership.

Programs that are part of the Harlem Children's Zone include:

  • The Baby College is a 9-week Saturday series of workshops for parents and other caregivers that covers topics including: ages and stages of development, discipline, bonding, safety, health, and nutrition.
  • Harlem Gems is a universal pre-kindergarten program that prepares four-year-old children for entry into kindergarten. Harlem Gems offers extended day activities throughout the school year.
  • Family Support Center is a walk-in, storefront social services facility that provides families in crisis with immediate access to professional social services including foster care prevention, domestic violence workshops, parenting skills classes, and group and individual counseling.
  • Parents Help Center is a drop-out prevention program which serves children at PS 149 with severe academic and attendance problems. Each child in the program receives individual and group counseling and 3-4 days per week of after-school recreational and academic activities.  The Center provides weekly training to 40-50 parents to help them play a greater role in their children’s education.
  • Harlem Peacemakers are college-aged interns who offer in-classroom support, supervise transitional periods during the school day, provide after-school programming and coordinate outreach to parents and parent involvement activities at six elementary schools in Harlem. (See HCZ Business Plan pp. 39-43).

Is There Evidence that Families Are Doing Better?

The Harlem Children's Zone regularly reports on effectiveness data. For example, in the Baby College in 2007, 81 percent of parents improved the frequency of reading to their children; 95.6 percent of parents had health insurance for their children upon graduation; and 97.2 percent of parents had up-to-date or scheduled immunizations for their children upon graduation. (See 2007 Annual Report).

Who Is Replicating the Harlem Children's Zone?

Efforts are underway to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in Philadelphia. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio is a strong supporter of expanding the Harlem Children’s Zone model in Florida, specifically growing a pilot project in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. A bill that passed in this year’s session establishes the Miami zone and a zone in Jacksonville. The bill includes $3.6 million to fund the Miami project and $1 million for the Jacksonville project.

Why Should Maryland Look Carefully at the Harlem Children's Zone?

Many families need access to services to help them address economic and non-economic challenges they face in raising their children. Currently, a family in Maryland needs to go into crisis before any help is available. This costs a lot of money, and it is often too late. Maryland needs to do a better job of creating opportunity for these families by providing a package of primary prevention services, particularly in distressed neighborhoods.

For an issue brief on the Harlem Children's Zone by Advocates for Children and Youth, click here.

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