The Voices of New Directions

Staff Spotlights during National Social Worker’s Month!


Ericka Finn, Behavioral Health Counselor
Child & Family Treatment Support Services

Ericka has been with New Directions since October 2017. Starting in the Partners in Parenting program, Ericka moved to CFTSS after completing her Master of Social Work degree.

As part of CFTSS, she provides in-home counseling to children ages 0-21 In Niagara County who have a mental health diagnosis or who are at-risk of a diagnosis. Ericka sees approximately 3-4 children per day on a weekly basis. Empowering children is the most rewarding part of her job. Ericka has always been very goal-driven, wanting to give back to her community and help kids. She loves being creative in her work, doing crafts and art with her clients.

In her personal time, Ericka enjoys gardening, knitting, and crocheting – a skill her grandmother taught her.


Shawna Soles, Care Coordinator
Wraparound Program

Shawna has more than 16 years of experience working with children and families, the last two here at New Directions. As a care coordinator in the wraparound program, she assists children and families in Erie County. Wraparound is a strengths-based program providing service linkages to community programs.

Shawna frequently works side by side with Erie County DSS ensuring families are safe, on even ground, and decreasing any imminent risk behaviors.

Shawna received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degree in human services and will soon be graduating with her Master of Social Work degree. After a position at Baker Victory Services, Shawna felt most needed working with children. She finds it so rewarding knowing she helped a child and family remarking “it’s not an easy job, but so rewarding.”

With a very demanding and sometimes stressful job, Shawna stresses the importance of self-care. She gets a massage twice a month and makes sure she is off-the-clock when she’s at home, unless there is a crisis situation.

Shawna is the mom of two boys, ages 11 and 4, loves entertaining friends, creating vision boards, and traveling!

Thank you to Ericka and Shawna for fostering good in all you do!



New Directions Youth and Family Services recently hired Julie Tomasi as Chief Operations Officer for Child Welfare programs, promoted Sarah Taylor to Chief Operations Officer for Community Programs, and promoted Alicia Wieczorek to Chief Clinical Officer.

“Significant changes are occurring in the provision of services to the children and families that we serve,” said Jim Coder, New Directions Chief Executive Officer. “The newly created positions allow us to refocus our resources to meet these challenges and explore new opportunities.”

Ms. Tomasi most recently served as Deputy Commissioner for Allegany County Department of Social Services, April 2011-October 2019, and has been in the child welfare field for more than 28 years, which includes working at New Directions from 1998 – 2011, directly serving youth and families as a social worker before advancing to clinical director and leadership roles including Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) Director.

Ms. Tomasi is a New York State licensed clinical social worker, obtaining a Master of social work degree from Syracuse University School of Social Work. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Academy of Clinical Social Workers (ACSW).

Ms. Taylor has been with New Directions since December 2004. Her experience with New Directions includes case manager, supervisor, and director positions. Ms. Taylor has demonstrated a proven ability to implement new, community-based programs in Erie and Niagara counties, including Preventive, Wrapround, Family Assessment Response, and Health Home Care Management, using data to inform decisions and supervision.

Ms. Taylor is New Directions’ lead in overseeing the Children’s Medicaid redesign. Ms. Taylor holds a Master of Education in School Counseling from University at Buffalo.


Ms. Wieczorek joined New Directions in September 2018 and has been in the human service field for 20 years providing direct services and clinical leadership. Her experience includes supervising clinic operations and providing clinical supervision to licensed social workers, medical and support staff.

Ms. Wieczorek is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-R), and a graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Social Work. She maintains a private practice as a Solution-Focused therapist with the Ken-Ton Family Support Center and is a Reiki Master Practitioner and Teacher.

“We are privileged to appoint Julie, Sarah, and Alicia to chief operations roles,” said Coder. “Each is highly skilled, with their knowledge and expertise surpassed only by their compassion and commitment to effective services for children and families”.

Kinship Care decreases trauma


by Hanna Farina, MSW, New Directions Therapeutic Foster Care Clinical Worker

When children are removed from their parent’s homes, often time parents are asked if they have any viable family or friend resources available to care for their children. This is referred to as Kinship Care.

Just like foster care, Kinship is a temporary arrangement granted by the court. The goal of kinship care is for children to be returned to their primary home. Kinship care decreases the trauma that children endure when they are removed from home. When children are placed with a Kin caregiver, they can remain with a familiar face and keep family connections. Children know the caregiver and have more stability as they may not move placements.

Changing homes often adds to trauma, increasing the risk of developing behavioral and attachment concerns. If parents are not able to be reunited with their children, with a kin placement, permanency is a much faster process.

New Directions Youth & Family Services can help certify family and friends as foster parents.  For more information or questions:

Erie and Niagara counties:
Melissa Bonello
Phone: 716.535.1789

Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties:
Missy Martin
Phone: 716.358.3636, ext 232

Child Abuse Prevention tips to Show Kids You Care


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. One in seven children experience abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life stressors increase the chances of unhealthy decision-making, poor coping skills, and negative consequences; increased stress may result in the loss of emotional and physical control and may ultimately lead to long-term emotional and physical effects experienced by our children.

What can parents and caretakers do to reduce stress and increase positive experiences with their children?

Give yourself a timeout: It’s OK to admit that you need to take a breath, collect your thoughts, and recharge. With so many responsibilities, as parents we often forget to stop and think before we act. We expect this from our children yet fail to see the value for ourselves. Role modeling how to briefly walk away from a stressful situation before losing our temper is the best way to teach those who “look up” to us how to handle conflict.

One day at a time: Bills, work, school projects, the birthday party this weekend … the demands go on. Each day, list three reasonable tasks to accomplish. Then, add one thing you and your child will do together to celebrate a successful day. Celebrating success is motivational and inspiring to children and parents. Celebrating might simply be playing a game, taking a walk, or talking while coloring a picture together.

Remember what it is like to be a child: Have fun with your children – it relieves stress and improves your relationship. How about a spontaneous dance-off to a favorite song? Maybe your child mastered the “Floss” viral dance craze, but do they know you’re a pro at “Running Man?” Create new moves together, which might become the next big hit. Find joy every day – even just 15 minutes of fun makes a big difference.

Be present: Unplug from technology, listen to what children tell you, make eye contact, and learn from them. Over time your children will mirror the same actions back to you. Being present reduces the risk of missing nonverbal messages, misinterpretations, and frustrations, and increases the satisfaction of your interactions with each other.

Being mindful and intentional with our thoughts and actions reduces stress and the risks of poor decision-making; it increases the value of our interactions, and improves the overall experiences we give our children, one moment at a time. April reminds us to focus on child abuse prevention; incorporating healthy strategies year-round, shows kids they are loved and helps keep kids safe.

By Alicia Wieczorek, Clinical Services Director at New Directions Youth and Family Services Inc.

As featured in the Buffalo News here.

Creating organizational compassion is essential


by Meaghan Barone Toft, LCSW

Organizations providing services for vulnerable children face enormous challenges, in an age of fast changes and tight budgets. When interacting with a child and their trauma experience(s), our top priority is to provide emotional, physical, and spiritual safety within our entire agency. New Directions Youth and Family Services has invested significant resources to address this need, by developing a comprehensive trauma-informed orientation for every employee. 

Our hard work was recently recognized by the McSilver Institute at New York University. The Institute is renowned for new discoveries about the root causes of poverty, developing evidence-based interventions to address its consequences, and moving quickly to put research findings into action through policy and practice.

Our collaboration with McSilver was part of a statewide collaboration to identify trauma-informed and resilience-based best practices. The collaboration also involved the Community Technical Assistance Center of New York and the Managed Care Technical Assistance Center of New York, which help human service agencies across the state strengthen their clinical and business operations.

The experience working with these organizations was particularly helpful in enhancing our trauma-informed orientation. When we first developed our plan for introducing the information, we focused specifically on direct-service workers.  Through the collaboration, we learned that every employee needs the information, including those who are not providing direct services to children and families, such as administration, finance, and maintenance departments.

We believe every New Directions employee fosters resiliency and it is our duty to equip our full team, with the tools of trauma-informed practices. The dining staff serving warm nutritious meals, the support service teams that keep our grounds clean and beautiful, and the receptionists who might be the first person a visitor encounters, all contribute to a comprehensive trauma-informed setting.

Having every employee, in any role, grounded in a clear understanding of trauma-informed practices, is a critically important component in providing impactful services to vulnerable children and families.

The training opens the door for all employees to view others more inclusively. For example, when trying to understand the results of trauma, we are asking our staff the pause in their reaction to a negative behavior and consider what is behind the behavior, and think, “what’s happened to you” instead of “what’s wrong with you.”  In tweaking the approach, we look at the whole person, instead of a behavior or poor choice. We are confident that our orientation will open new paths for conversations and compassion between employees, children, and families.

The number of children in our communities surviving trauma is growing.  Delivering impactful services requires innovative approaches at a time when financial resources are limited. With dwindling government support, human service agencies are taking matters into our own hands, to ensure that we are meeting the needs of children, families, staff, and community.

Meaghan Barone Toft is the Adventure Recreation Director at New Directions Youth and Family Services.

Carolyne DeFranco, CEO of our affiliated agency, Gateway-Longview, receives YWCA of the Niagara Frontier award

POSTED: 10.18.18 | CATEGORY:

Carolyne DeFranco, CEO of our affiliated agency, Gateway-Longview, is this year’s Management Award winner given by the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier at their 2018 awards ceremony, “A Tribute to Women.” Carolyne was nominated by New Directions Board President, Christine Weeks, who also serves on the YWCA board.

Carolyne, the first woman CEO of Gateway-Longview in its 127 year history, and Christine have worked very closely over the past several years on the affiliation process between New Directions and Gateway-Longview and Christine felt that Carolyne’s determination, vision and outstanding personal character made her a natural selection for this award.
In Carolyne’s acceptance speech, she noted the vital role that her mother had played as a strong role model, and the tremendous support given to her by her family and friends.
“We are so fortunate to live in a time where kindness, compassion, authenticity, honesty, politeness and humility are now recognized as true leadership qualities,” she said, “and never forget that the next generation is watching.”
Joseph Gallagher, Chief Administrative Officer for New Directions was also on hand to join in this celebration of Carolyne’s achievements and to support all of the 2018 awards winners.
“It’s inspiring to hear the stories told by each of these women, and learn how they used their individual interests and talents to make the world a better place for those around them, “ Gallagher said.

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Lifetime Health


“The Deepest Well”, a new book by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., brings new insight to the life-long effects that exposure to adverse childhood experiences can have, while highlighting the growing role of medical science in the understanding and treatment provided by New Directions.

“We are at a very exciting place in time where advances in scientific research are giving us greater understanding of what drives behavior,” says Joseph Gallagher, chief administrative officer. “And this knowledge is helping us create new strategies for helping to prevent and heal the effects of trauma.”

New Directions’ success in integrating Trauma Informed Care into all aspects of agency operations involves training staff in a variety of models, over an extended period of time. The training we provide is tailored to the different roles staff may have in a child’s treatment and care, and allows clinicians to choose from a variety of models the one best suited for them and the youth that they are working with. The agency has also made significant investments in consultations and trainings with nationally known trauma experts, and has formed on-going collaborations with local universities developing trauma informed treatment practices.

“Through our on-going relationship with the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work’s Institute on Trauma and Trauma informed Care, we have engaged a highly-trained clinical consultant to provide guidance on the development of our trauma related practices and to supervise clinicians in the utilization of trauma informed treatment strategies. These clinicians then work with our front line treatment teams to incorporate these practices in their work as well.” says Lynn Siradas, director of foster care and adoption services, and a driving force in the agency’s trauma treatment efforts.

In addition, New Directions has been involved with the UB institute on a collaborative comprised of seven university/agency teams across the country to explore how trauma informed practices are implemented within organizations. Based on annual surveys conducted by the Institute, New Directions is showing significant increases in the number of staff knowledgeable of trauma informed care.

“Clearly, a light is being shone on the path we need to take,” says Gallagher. “and fortunately, we are well prepared to make the journey.”

For more information on the effect of adverse childhood experiences, here are two great resources:

“The Deepest Well”, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D

Dr. Burke Harris’ Ted Talk (Highly recommended!):

The Ted Radio Hour: How genes and experience collaborate — and compete — to make us who we are.

Campus School Gets Excellent Reviews


New Directions has a wide variety of programs, each of which provides assistance in the most effective way for the people that they serve. The importance of education though, is a core value that is shared throughout the agency. We couldn’t be happier then that the educational services provided by the Henrietta G. Lewis Campus School (HGLCS) and the Wayne E. Secord Therapeutic Preschool at our Lockport campus continue to receive outstanding feedback from the parents of our students. Read More

Families play key role in addressing children’s needs


Helping youth with mental health and behavioral challenges thrive in home and community settings is one of the most challenging issues in our mental health system today. In the past, a child might have been removed from their home simply because few better alternatives were available. Now, however, New Directions Youth and Family Services is participating in a new program that integrates evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound with the state’s Medicaid Health Homes Serving Children program, to better serve young people ages 12 to 21 with serious emotional disturbances.

The new program, New York State Systems of Care, is supported through a federal grant and is being implemented by the New York State Office of Mental Health, as part of the state’s health care reform efforts. Locally, the Erie County Department of Mental Health is collaborating with various agencies, including New Directions Youth and Family Services, to serve these at-risk children. Erie County was selected in part based on past successes in implementing systems of care initiatives for at risk children, including incorporating youth and family voices into policies and practices.

The program is intended to better serve youth and young adults with the highest and most complex needs in home and community settings. and is based on the evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound model. National data supports the effectiveness of this model in which families work with a team facilitator to establish their own individual child and family team.

Read More

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