The Voices of New Directions

A Generational Legacy of Fostering and Adoption


Fostering and adoption is a legacy for Lisa and her family. At just three years old her beloved Aunt Sallyann adopted a little girl, and from that moment Lisa knew one day she wanted to do the same.

Lisa grew up, married her husband, had five biological children, and fulfilled her lifelong dream, adopting four children and fostering more than 10 children in long-term placements.

Lisa had adopted a little girl from Sierra Leone during the time of their civil war, when she learned another little girl from the same country was in need. That’s how Lisa and her family found New Directions. New Directions’ trauma-informed training and exceptional staff gave Lisa the support and guidance she needed to help her foster children in healing the trauma they endured.

“They have always been a wonderful advocate for us as foster parents, and even bigger advocates for the kids. They know these kids so well, and understand their needs. They are able to find families that are the right fit for the kids. There are a lot of kids out there that need a family, and then, of course you just fall in love with them all,” Lisa explained.

When Lisa’s eldest Daughter, Lydia was in her early twenties, she became a certified foster parent so she could help her mom by providing respite when she needed a break. Her plan was to provide respite sporadically on the weekends. That plan changed rather quickly when a teenage girl she knew, a sibling of some kids her mom had fostered, needed a placement. The teen had been through 17 foster homes by the time she came to Lydia, and that’s when things changed. She said “If I’m in this, I’m in it. Knowing the history of how many foster homes she had been through, I told myself this is it. I’m not giving up on this girl. Many kids will tell you, leaving their families is hard and traumatizing, but the worst thing is being sent away over and over again. I wasn’t going to do that.” Lydia adopted her eldest daughter, Kassie, when she was 19 years old. She went on to adopt four more children. Her first two were older teenagers, and then she adopted a sibling group aged 9 years to one years old.

Lydia explained all kids have different levels of need and ways they want to be supported. There is never a one shoe fits all approach in loving and helping children heal and flourish. The youngest sibling group had endured significant trauma and neglect. Her nine year old had significant developmental delays due to the neglect, and doctors told Lydia she would never catch up to her peers. Today, her daughter is 17 years old, an honor roll student, playing multiple sports including track and bowling, and loves to play her flute. She’s applying to colleges, has a job, and is excited about her future. One moment that stood out to Lydia recently was when she daughter was looking at colleges and different majors. She turned to Lydia and said “This is hard trying to figure out what I want to be, because I can do anything I want!”

Fostering and adoption is so ingrained in their family, and they love every minute of it. “There is such a significant need for foster and adoptive parents. I think many people want to do a good thing, but may not understand the high level of need these kids have from the trauma they’ve endured. My youngest was moved six times before she turned one year old. That still affects her. There is so much loss and you just have to be there with them through it. You can’t have the mentality of ‘I’m going to save you.’ Understanding it may not be what you expect, and it will be tough, but it is also so unbelievably rewarding and you just love these kids so much.” Lydia now works for New Directions as a parent trainer. It is her passion to empower children and families heal and build on their strengths.

Kassie now has a family of her own and is continuing the family legacy of fostering and adoption. She currently is fostering four children. For their family, they hear of a kid, or know of a need, and they want to be a support for that child.

Aunt Sallyann was the eldest daughter in her family, Lisa the eldest daughter in hers, and so on with Lydia, and Kassie. A family legacy of fostering and adoption four generations strong.


Aunt Sallyann and her husband      Lisa (center) with her six oldest children      Lisa’s youngest three children

Child Abuse Prevention During the Pandemic


In thinking about child abuse and neglect prevention and awareness, I am overwhelmed by the reality of how too often one can find themselves in a situation of helplessness and survival mode. Throughout this pandemic, many caregivers find their world has turned upside down with supports, routines, and normalcy pulled out from under them.

We are being asked to adapt during a time of limbo and find ways to complete our “usual” tasks while taking on new ones. Some caregivers must continue to go to work, learn to work at home, or attend school while making sure the children are home-schooled, safe and fed, and oh, are also entertained enough to not continuously tell you how bored they are!

We are all concerned about finances and no one has extra help or supports coming in at this time. Grandparents? Friends? Family Members? Nope! Even essential professionals are limited in their capacity and ability to come into your home.

I often find myself struggling to keep up with the necessary tasks of the day, and not even getting to the “hopes” I have for myself now that I am home more often. My own mental health is being tested through this difficult, ever-changing time. I have feelings of guilt when I am too quick to express my frustration with my children. I am sad that I am not taking my children outside as often as I think I should. I worry about my daughter’s speech regressing without the aid of speech therapy. However, I have great worry for parents and caregivers who are being stressed and stretched to the max – I worry that some may react in a way they would not normally. For, when in “survival mode”, one cannot expect to function the same as we did before the pandemic.

This entire situation has made me rethink how parents with limited support before this pandemic, made it day-by-day, parenting in a “survival mode” every day. Who did they go to for support? How did they make sure their own self-care needs were met? How did they appropriately respond to their children’s needs among competing demands? Who grew up in “survival mode”?

Child abuse and neglect is the result of many different factors, yet I believe one of the main factors is what many parents are now feeling during this difficult time: our expectations (either our own or from others) exceed our abilities to meet even basic needs. During this time, more and more parents are struggling with how to make it through, wondering how they are going to have the endurance to continue, until conditions improve.
If I may, I’d like to lend some encouragement to help us through this stressful parenting time:

  1. Strip your life of all things that are not necessary and get back to the basics. Examine your needs as a human and a parent and focus only on finding solutions to those needs. Now is not the time to add extra pressures and demands. Solidly creating a foundation of needs that is continually being met, flourishes into a life with feelings and thoughts of purpose, fulfillment, and accomplishment. Then, you will begin to discover the “wants” or “hopes” you can handle and add them in.
  2.  Give and receive grace to and from your children and family. As humans, we continually fail others and others fail us. “Love them anyway” as Mother Teresa says. Implement grace into your family and model this trait for your children.
  3. Encourage other parents and caregivers not to cling to what they are doing “wrong” but cling to what they are doing well! During this pandemic we are omitting many “extras” in our lives and have a chance to think about what is important.
  4. Encourage one another to think about how we can either:
    a) find ourselves becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with our children and ourselves for how we think our lives “should” be (what we should be accomplishing, how many things we could be learning, etc.), or
    b) use this time of quarantine to be thankful for those in our lives and envision the “new normal” we want, after this quarantine. What activities do we want to do with our children? What type of self-care needs are extremely important that we as caregivers need, in order to function well? How often do we carve out family time? Times with friends? Times with extended family? What do I want my children to learn from my example?

Through the rest of this pandemic and after it is over, my goals are 1) to not revert to my old ways of perceiving others through their difficulties but to listen and hear if their needs are being met, validate their difficulties, and encourage others to take care of themselves in order to better care for their children and families, and 2) to make sure the important things in my life are of highest priority. We can have such an exciting, purposeful, and fulfilling life if we are able to use this time to learn about what we view as important, all the while modeling for our children and family how to have the same for theirs.

So, as we continue into week 7 of quarantine, I encourage everyone to examine their thoughts and feelings, strip away all that is not needed, and do well to meet your own needs as a parent and a human, and encourage your family, friends, and clients to do the same. Then we can begin to reduce frustrations with ourselves and our families and have a better understanding of others by stating what they need to survive and thrive.


– Amanda B. Brittin, LMSW
Family Engagement Supervisor

New Directions CFTSS and Health Home Services during COVID-19

New Directions Children’s Health Home and Children Family Treatment and Support Services (CFTSS) staff will be utilizing telemental health services whenever appropriate in order to continue providing services to families. Some services may still be provided in a face to face setting when clinically appropriate and screened for safety. Most of our staff will be working remotely from home during this time to minimize the concentration of people in one work location. All of our staff remain available and dedicated to provide services to youth and families in our community.
Our centralized intake information is as follows:
Phone: 1-866-617-0065
Email is preferred over fax at this time.
Please see contact information forms below:
New Directions CFTSS Contact Information
New Directions CFTSS Medical Necessity Admission Criteria
New Directions CFTSS Referral Form
New Directions Health Homes Contact Information

COVID-19 Updates


In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have made the following changes:
New Directions Youth and Family Services is supporting the children and families we serve in keeping with guidance provided by state and local governing bodies, including NY Department of Health, OCFS, OMH.

Please contact your assigned worker or program supervisor for specifics. We will provide updates as information becomes available.

Be safe and well!

Our Response to COVID-19


For over 140 years, the health and safety of the children and families we serve, and of our staff, has been the primary concern of New Directions Youth & Family Services, Inc. And while the emergence of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) presents a new challenge to our planning and resources, we are working closely with the counties’ Department of Health, the New York State Office of Children & Family Services (OCFS) and Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that we are following their guidance regarding approved procedures and best practices.

New Directions provides a wide range of services including residential centers, schools and a diverse array of community-based programs, each of which has reviewed the guidance being provided and is implementing the recommended policies and procedures as is appropriate for the service being delivered.  A copy of this guidance has been attached below to provide some insight as to what it includes.

At this time, our immediate focus remains on the prevention of infection and maintaining open communication with all involved. The general guidance that we have received from New York State’s OCFS and DOH has been well publicized but bears repeating – stay away from large social gatherings, practice “social distancing” (stay at least three feet away from other people whenever possible), and isolate yourself from others when you are not feeling well. Basic prevention methods like frequent hand washing and sanitized cleaning are critical.

All our services are altering their activities as appropriate to follow these recommendations, including the cancellation of large group meetings and field trips, enhanced cleaning and disinfection of facilities, encouraging staff to use video and teleconferencing and allowing staff to work from home when possible.

Our residential facilities and schools are aware of and are following NYS guidance regarding the process to follow should the infection of a child be suspected, including an approved assessment protocol, isolation procedures, notifications, and transportation to a health facility under the direction of the NYS Department of Health.

Our behavioral health clinic and community based programs are contacting families before visits to provide information on COVID-19 and to determine any health risks that may be present in the home. The use of telemedicine (including video) is also now being encouraged when allowed by service’s licensing agency.

For more information on COVID-19, we are recommending the following resources:

New Directions is both proud and grateful for the dedication of its staff which continues to provide high quality, compassionate care to children and families throughout New York during these challenging times, and we remain hopeful the actions we are taking will help to keep our children, families and staff healthy and safe in the weeks to come.


Joseph Gallagher
Chief Administrative Officer

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.

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