In honor of Social Work Month, we’re shining a spotlight on some exceptional Children’s Aid employees. Our social workers are the heart and soul of our agency, and they have profound impacts on the lives that they touch.
When Tiffany Watson-Labbate received her invitation to the award ceremony, she was thrilled. She would be attending the first ever Black Excellence in Public Health Awards from the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness. Then she realized she had even more of a reason to be excited: She was being honored as a Champion in Behavioral Health.
“In this field, you don’t always get a thank you,” Watson-Labbate said. “You get to see how you’ve helped people, but there’s not always recognition. Being recognized for doing this work was nice. I wasn’t looking for it, but it was nice all the same.”
Watson-Labbate, a licensed social worker, is a behavioral health program manager and supervisor at Curtis High School in Staten Island, her alma mater. She’s been working for Children’s Aid in the high school for seven years. And this has been by far her most challenging year to date.
Because of the novel coronavirus, New York City public high schools have been closed for in-person learning since March 23, 2020. But Curtis had to close two weeks earlier because of an outbreak of the virus. As a result, Watson-Labbate and her staff have been tasked with managing the mental health of hundreds of students from a distance.
The pandemic has posed a unique mental health burdens on teenagers. Students have had to adjust to remote learning, have lacked access to friends and mentors, and have been asked to help assume family responsibilities like helping to pay bills and to take care of other children in their households.
Watson-Labbate has started several initiatives aimed at student empowerment. She was honored for her work with the Student Wellness Council, a group of eight to 10 students who meet weekly to discuss mental health needs and solutions. The council identifies issues in the high school and then advocates for them with everyone from school administrators to policymakers.
“We wanted the students to have a space to say, ‘This pandemic stinks,’ and to have someone to check in with,” she said. “We said come if you can come, or don’t if you can’t. It gave them something to gravitate to, which was helpful for them.”
The council is supported by the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness (SIPCW), which created and hosted Friday’s award ceremony.
“[Watson-Labbate] is passionate about serving youth and adolescence,” said SIPCW’s Maralie Deprinvil upon awarding Watson-Labbate, “and empowering them to be agents’ of change.”
Watson-Labbate felt that she shared the award in part with those students she has helped to empower.
“They’re acknowledging school champions and adult champions,” she said. “It’s not just me. It’s amazing that a program like this is thriving during the pandemic.”