The United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) of NY recently released a report championing the settlement house model as a valuable practice to strengthen neighborhoods, families, and civic life, especially for disconnected youth and immigrant families.
UNH is the membership organization of New York City settlement houses and community centers. Its membership comprises one of the largest human service systems in New York City, with 37 agencies working at more than 400 sites. UNH promotes and strengthens the neighborhood based, multi-service approach to improving lives of New Yorkers in the need and the communities in which they live. McSilver is fortunate to have the guidance of the Executive Director of UNH, Nancy Wackstein, on its advisory board.
UNH’s report, entitled “The Enduring Advantage of Settlement Houses,” is a collaborative effort of UNH members that describes their experiences and challenges in settlement house practice.
The report opens by describing the underlying principles of settlement house practice that date back to the early nineteenth century where American social work began in the settlement houses of Jane Addams and Lillian Wald. These principles includeembeddedness, meaning that they are “of, by, and for” the neighborhoods in which they are located; reciprocity, meaning everyone in the community contributes and collaborates; community-building, or strengthening a sense of community belonging; multiple points of entry for linking individuals and families with activities, programs, and services; and wraparound, integrated services to ensure that programs and services form a coherent whole for participants. These principles come together to form a settlement house advantage for those who participate through promoting a sense of belonging, efficacy, and possibility.
The report also details the settlement house practice for disconnected youth and immigrant families. Key features of practice with disconnected youth include a comprehensive set of services combining education and workforce development with intensive personal support and assistance and a laser focus on keeping enrolled participants connected to staff, program and peers to reduce the likelihood that young people will leave the program.
Additionally, the report found that for immigrant families, there were five challenges that were particular to this population. First, programs must attract and retain staff who are diverse, culturally competent and professional. Secondly, settlement houses should accommodate cultural expectations by modifying programs. Thirdly, services should respond effectively to the changing demographics of immigrant neighborhoods. Fourth, emphasizing a strength-based perspective, settlement houses should Support immigrants as contributors, not “problems.” Finally, agencies should work to help undocumented immigrants who are afraid to be involved in any service system.
To address the challenges of both of these populations, members of UNH have formed innovative programs and services that cater to the particular needs of disconnected youth and immigrant families, while staying true to their underlying principles.
In the words of McSilver Director Mary McKay: “United Neighborhood Houses continues to be a strong voice and advocate for the community-building social services offered by settlement houses in historically under-served neighborhoods. Their report, “The Enduring Advantage of Settlement Houses,” confirms that the settlement house model of community-based service delivery is an effective means for providing culturally appropriate supports and interventions needed to improve lives. As the number of children and families living in poverty increases, the work of New York City’s settlement houses is ever more critical.” McSilver is excited to be able to partner with UNH and shares its intense commitment to participatory and collaborative models to form relevant, innovative, and advantageous programs and services to individuals, families, and their communities.
Click here to read the full UNH report.