Why We Do What We Do

A Vicious Cycle

Violence, isolation and poverty lead to stress and interference with positive relationships, which often result in maltreatment, domestic violence and frequent foster care placement.

Information courtesy of Zero to Three.

Chances for Children-NY began with a Pilot Project in the New York City Public Schools

Chances for Children-NY (CFC) began in 2000 when its founders, Elizabeth Buckner and Hillary Mayers, responded to a request from the New York City Department of Education teen-parent programs to provide joint therapy for teen mothers and their children in two public high schools. Both schools had Living for Young Families through Education (LYFE) Centers that cared for babies while mothers attended classes. CFC believed that the young mothers had the capacity to provide secure childhoods for their children, although many of the women had experienced trauma, including fostercare placement, physical and sexual abuse, and community violence and would have to raise their children in high-risk environments. In collaboration with the Institute for Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies (ICAFS), CFC began a pilot study. The two founders worked in the nurseries with 25 pairs of mothers and babies, using video-feedback, a technique in which the participants are videoed while interacting with one another. The videos were then reviewed in feedback sessions. During those sessions, clinicians and mothers together identified moments that were going well to help mothers gain confidence in their capacity to raise their children. Clinicians met with mothers and babies in pairs, individually and in groups with other mothers. These meetings allowed the mothers to reflect on interactions, behaviors, and conflicts that are part of everyday parenting.

At the end of the two-year pilot project CFC conducted a study of the results. CFC reviewed the videos of the 25 mother-infant pairs and compared them with videos of 25 pairs in comparable nurseries at other schools where no clinical intervention took place.

Ten-minute video-recordings, each of a mother and child playing together, were the main measure used to assess the outcome of treatment. The tapes were analyzed with Mahoney’s Maternal Behavior Rating Scale (MBRS), which identifies potentially important components of maternal behavior, including child orientedness, pleasure and control. The scale has four factors to measure interactive styles:

Higher scores demonstrate “better” parenting for all factors except the last, for which a lower score is “better”. CFC analyzed each factor of the Maternal Behavior Rating Scale separately. The results indicated that three of the factors, Responsive/Child Oriented, Affect/Animation, and Directive showed significant improvement at the schools where CFC worked, while for the other schools none of the factors improved. Achievement Orientation also improved for the treatment group but not significantly (see below for mean scores). It’s worth noting that Mahoney, the author of the scale, believes the Achievement factor is the least meaningful in determining the parent-child relationship outcome.

Maternal Behavior Rating

In 2006, the World Childhood Foundation awarded CFC a grant for a follow-up study of the mothers and babies who participated in the pilot study. CFC sought to identify any long-term benefits for participants in the pilot study compared to the control group. CFC contacted mothers from both groups and collected data from 23 of them, using video of them interacting with their children, interviews, and questionnaires. Although the sample size was small, there was significant evidence that mothers in the pilot study maintained behavioral patterns that showed higher responsiveness to their children, greater reciprocity between parent and child, and greater parent capacity to understand the child’s perspective than the control-group mothers. The mothers from the pilot-study reported less depression than the others and higher satisfaction with their lives. When asked “How useful did you find participating in the CFC project?” all mothers who participated in the project gave the program a five on a scale of one to five.


Following the success of the pilot program, Chances for Children expanded. The two founders trained 12 Department of Education LYFE social workers to conduct the video-feedback program. These social workers intervened with parents and babies in 12 nurseries. The results were excellent.

Chances for Children NYIn 2008, Chances for Children shifted into community mental health. In collaboration with the Riverdale Mental Health Association (RMHA) and the Highbridge Community Life Center, it began programs in two areas of the Bronx where babies and young children are particularly vulnerable. In these areas the mental health services for children under five had been woefully inadequate. CFC provided two years of training in its video feedback program to the RMHA early childhood team that serves the Kingsbridge community. This training allowed RMHA to serve families with children under five for the first time.

In 2012, Chances for Children and RMHA joined together to create the Chances for Children Institute at RMHA which provides training in infant mental health. In 2014, CFC began collaborating with Hunts Point Alliance for Children and continues to provide parent-child intervention at their agency.

After 15 years of providing services, in 2015 CFC applied for and was granted its own 501(c)(3) status. CFC is now an independent, non-profit organization, Chances for Children-NY.


Chances for Children-NY collaborated with the Sarasota (Fla.) Partnership for Mental Health to provide intensive training to early-childhood practitioners in Sarasota County.

In addition, CFC participated in a conference in Stockholm underwritten by the World Childhood Foundation, as one of 14 projects from around the globe that produced successful interventions and results in maternal-infant health.

Chances for Children-NY has presented its findings frequently at national and international conferences. Among these are: the World Association for Infant Mental Health, the Zero to Three National Training Institute, the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, the International Psychoanalytic Association Research & Training Program, and the National Membership Committee on Psychoanalysis.