We support the healthy development of children and youth, while stabilizing their families to build stronger communities.

Drexel sigrho wellness
Our Vision

Everything we do is designed to create a better future for our families. We believe that every child and youth has the potential to transform themselves – no matter their background or life situations. If we invest in that potential through services that focus on care, safety, health, permanency, independence, and positive relationships, then children, youth and their families will lead happier and healthy lives.

Welcome to Northern, a place where children, youth, and families heal, rebuild, and thrive. A culture of optimism, hope, and belief that makes us never give up.

Renata Cobbs-Fletcher — President and CEO
Merrick Building
A Message From Our President And CEO

As we step into the unfolding chapters of 2024, it's a moment for us to pause and look back not just at the previous year, but at the many years that have shaped us. Northern's work to support Philadelphia's children, youth, and families highlights a glaring truth: the basic human rights and comprehensive needs of many are far from being met. Yet, amidst these challenges, there lies a profound resilience and a spirit of perseverance that inspires our work every day to address these and other issues affecting those we serve:

Poverty: Research has long demonstrated a strong correlation between poverty and poor mental health outcomes. Approximately 350,000 children live in Philadelphia, with about 27% living at or below the poverty line (compared to 15% for all of PA and 16% nationwide[1]. Of the approximately 1500 children and youth Northern serves annually, almost 100% live below the poverty line.

Exposure to Trauma and Violence: Many, if not most, of the children and youth served by Northern Programs have experienced severe traumas, including gun violence, which has a devastating impact on their well-being and prospects. Penn Medicine published a study from 2021 data showing that young people who lived within a four-block radius of a shooting location were more likely to have mental health issues and visit a pediatric emergency room for mental health crises[2].

Community and School Violence: While gun violence rates have gone down 25% in 2023 from 2022, the years 2021-2023 have been the deadliest in Philadelphia on record. Young people aged 18 and under make up 11% of Philadelphia’s 2023 homicide victims, up from 10% in 2022, according to data from the Office of the Controller.

Of Philadelphia’s 47 zip codes, 20 share high shooting rates and high rates of chronic unemployment (Philadelphia Department of Public Health). Of these 20 zip codes, Northern works with children and families that reside and go to school in 19 of them, mostly encompassing North Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Youth Mental Health: In Philadelphia’s community behavioral health sector, there is a crisis of understaffing for providers across the city at a time when behavioral and mental health services in the communities we and others serve are needed now more than ever.

The School District of Philadelphia reported that about a third of high school students felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more, significantly impacting their usual activities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2023 that suicide by firearm is the highest it’s been since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, per the CDC, rates among young people of color aged 10-19 have more than doubled.

Foster Care: According to Kids Count, Nationally, more than 25,000 youth are in foster care annually. 13,700 youth are in foster care in PA and approximately 4,300 in Philadelphia. 53% of youth ages 14+ are in foster care because of behavioral health issues in PA (30% nationally).

Youth Homelessness: 500 youth in Philadelphia experience homelessness at any moment[3]. In 2023, homelessness in the city increased by 5.2% from 2022. 40-50% of homeless youth have been in foster care.

Juvenile Justice: More youth are detained at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center (PJJSC) and staying longer. The number of youth detained at the PJJSC has increased by 14% from the previous fiscal year, and the median stay (in days) at the PJJSC increased by 13% from FY22 to FY23[4].

Whether on our beautiful, tranquil Philadelphia campus, in schools, community-based settings, and family homes, we offer caring and effective trauma-informed services and programs to underserved, under-resourced families and communities.

As an organization, Northern evolves. We learn from our past and embrace the wisdom it offers while also staying open to new perspectives and growth opportunities. Northern stands at the intersection of experience and innovation—a veteran institution with the spirit of a startup committed to steering our communities, our children, and our families toward healing and resilience.

A new year brings reflection on the myriad facets of humanity—our inherent beauty, our resilience, our triumphs, and, paradoxically, our capacity to inflict pain, create trauma, and diminish each other, despite our shared humanity. We've erected systems and structures that unfortunately serve only a select few, ignoring the universal right to peace, safety, love, support, and equity—whether that's in Philadelphia, across the United States, or around the globe.

I am honored to lead Northern on this journey.

Warm regards,



Our Values
At Northern Children, we strive to live out our core values each and every day.
  • Excellence

    Fresh ideas, creativity, and best practices are the foundation of our program models. As a learning organization, we are committed to ongoing and mid-course corrections that push us to grow, improve, adapt, and change, allowing us to serve our families with the integrity and excellence they deserve.

  • Respect

    Young people and families bring their own knowledge, values, ideas, and beliefs. Through respectful, compassionate and nurturing relationships that promote healing, we provide services and programs in a safe and trustworthy environment. Together, we move toward the realization of a shared vision for a bright today and a brighter tomorrow.

  • Resilience

    We create an atmosphere that promotes strength, healing, and recovery and builds on the courage and resources within individuals, families, and communities. We address needs by embracing the individualized tools and gifts that each person, family, and community bring.

  • Cultural Humility & Justice

    We understand the value that diversity of all kinds brings to all our lives and work. We are open and hungry for equity and justice for all. and our minds are open to any ideas that help us all get there. We recognize that systemic racism and inequality are woven into the fabric of what we do and who we serve. We advocate for system change through our voices, our actions, and our work. We remain vulnerable and open as we go about the messiness of unlearning and teaching, and we do so with compassion for one another and ourselves.

  • Healing

    We acknowledge the role that trauma plays in the lives of many if not most of us. We embrace a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing, and believe in asking,” What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”. Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.

  • Wellness

    We understand that we cannot be at our best if we don’t have good health. We promote good mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health and well-being in the workplace and in our personal lives, and strive to model these priorities for others, both in our work and beyond.

Our History

1853 - 1922

Northern Children's Services opened its doors in 1853 on Buttonwood Street in Philadelphia. At that time, the organization was named, "Northern Home for Friendless Children." It was founded by Elizabeth E. Hutter as a residential refuge for children who had been left without parents, both in the Civil War and for other reasons.

The mission of Northern Home for Friendless Children was to serve “destitute and neglected children, ignorant or forsaken, little boys or girls under twelve years of age.” In 1854, Northern Home for Children relocated to 23rd & Brown Streets in Philadelphia. The home was built for $21,500 and housed 114 children. It was there for almost 70 years. In 1867, Elizabeth Hutter became the first woman in Pennsylvania history to receive a Governor’s commission as Inspector and Examiner of the State Department’s Soldiers and Sailors Orphan Schools.

From 1853 through 1860, 1300 children were admitted to Northern Home.

NCS old drawing

1923 - 1969

In 1923, Northern Home for Friendless Children moved to its current location at 5301 Ridge Avenue in the Wissahickon neighborhood of Philadelphia. The new, 6+ acre campus offered four dormitories, an infirmary with a doctor, dentist, and nurse attending, a dining hall and kitchen, a gymnasium, a library, and administrative and meeting rooms during. Outdoor recreation was spacious.

By 1953, the campus housed 100 children. Children came to the Home, in most instances, “from broken families in distressed conditions. They suffered from emotional problems, insecurity, and fear of the future. Some came from other institutions or agencies that had been unsuccessful in getting the children to respond positively to these environments.” Northern Home provided these children with a positive program designed to give individual help to each child, based upon the child’s own requirements.

NCS dance

1970 - 1999

Now called Northern Home for Children, the organization began to change its services throughout these two decades. Northern Home began to create programs that reached more children, youth, and families. They also started new programs that serviced clients directly in the community. There was still a residential program, but it was no longer Northern Home's primary service.

Northern Home focused on providing a broader range of care. The services were intended to address a wider range of needs. They also focused on both preventive services as well as interventive services. This helped them to meet each client where they were.

In 1999, Merrick Hall closed.

Kevin old photo with boys

2000 - 2014

In 2006, As our services grew, so did the campus when the Alexander Buck Residence Hall opened. This was the first new building on the campus in 25 years. It currently provides housing for 8 young men and women, all of whom are youth transitioning to adulthood. In 2008, The Weinberg Residence Hall was renovated and reopened. This building continues to house a transitional program for up to eight young mothers at imminent risk of homelessness with up to two children each. In 2012, We changed our name to Northern Children's Services to better reflect the care and services we provide to our clients and the community.

After 15 years of being vacant, Merrick Hall - the oldest building on our campus - reopened on July 31, 2014. Mr. Bon Jovi and the JBJ Soul Foundation again supported Northern in the renovation. “From day one on the campus of Northern Children’s Services some ten years ago, I marveled at the history and hidden beauty of that old building – Merrick Hall,” stated Jon Bon Jovi, Chairman of the JBJ Soul Foundation. “It is wonderful to see it now fully restored to glory and in use for such a purposeful cause – addressing the needs of young mothers in this community.” 

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2015 - Today

Our residential services now house 28 mothers with up to two children, including permanent housing. 

Whether by preventing hospitalization through support and care, supporting the improvement of behaviors, ensuring the safety and health of youth in foster care homes, and preventing our single parent residents from the worry of eviction or homelessness, Northern continues to be there for our families and communities. We work to ensure that our young people have stable, consistent, structured, and caring environments—at home, at school, on our campus—and throughout the community.