“It takes a village to raise a child.” Just ask Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or consult the ancient African proverb. But don’t ask Gov. Tom Corbett, whose proposed state budget for next fiscal year includes the elimination of community-based family support services across Allegheny County.
In particular, the services that would be affected are those offered by the county’s 27 family support centers and funded by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
At the heart of any family support center are children. The purpose of these centers is to strengthen families and neighborhoods by providing services and resources that parents need to raise happy and healthy kids.
The centers primarily serve families with children ages 0 (prenatal) to 5 years. Through home visits and center activities, they offer a core of services geared toward early childhood education and intervention as well as family and individual health and safety.
Home-visit services include parent education, developmental assessments for children and, when necessary, referrals to other agencies. On-site activities vary from center to center depending on participant interest and often include parenting classes, children’s playgroups and/or preschool classes.
Most of the centers are located in “at-risk” neighborhoods that demonstrate the greatest need for prevention and support, such as areas with weak socioeconomic stature and/or vulnerable racial, ethnic or cultural composition.
The location of any given center is used to set a radius for the geographic bounds of in-home services. On-site activities are generally open to all Allegheny County families regardless of whether or not they are from at-risk neighborhoods or groups. In other words, the centers are open to families from all walks of life—black, white, rich, poor, et al.
Corbett’s proposed budget threatens to cut the funds for family support centers by approximately 28 percent. It is unclear exactly how this cut would take its toll. One possibility is that as many as nine centers would be shut down altogether. Another possibility is that each center would have to cut back on its services and/or staff.
No matter how you slice it, the proposed budget will affect a large number of Allegheny County families who benefit from support services. That’s 3,651 families with 5,904 children and 4,318 adults.
Bringing the subject closer to home, the Whitehall Place Apartments complex houses a large number of immigrant and refugee families and one of the county’s family support centers. Indeed, the complex’s Prospect Park Family Center provides all of the in-home services mentioned above as well as on-site activities that meet the unique needs of the nonnative families resettled at Whitehall Place.
Because these families need assistance overcoming language barriers and cultural differences, case management is far more intensive and generally requires extra support.
The PPFC finds interpreters to assist families in all stages of home visits and referral appointments. It encourages families to attend English-as-a-second-language classes at the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council office stationed in the same building. And, it offers its own classes on practical topics, such as basic financial literacy and infant/toddler car-seat safety.
Staff members also make sure that Whitehall Place families are familiar with American medical practices, particularly with immunization protocol, and help prepare children for preschool.
Courtney Macurak, site director at the PPFC, notes that many of her clients consider the center a part of their family and go to it as they would go to a parent—for help, advice and security.
If the PPFC was eliminated by budget cuts, dozens of immigrant and refugee families would not only lose local support; they’d also lose that which makes them feel “at home” in the United States.
For those having trouble relating to the plight of immigrant and refugee families, how about relating to the plight of the average family who lives down the street?
One example is Baldwin-Whitehall mother “Connie G.,” who regularly visits the Hilltop Family Care Connection, a family support center in Mount Oliver. The HFCC offers a weekly playgroup for toddlers (an activity not offered at the PPFC) to which Connie brings her two young children for play with a diverse group of kids in a pre-preschool learning environment.
In the two years that her family has been going to the HFCC, Connie has also participated in her share of activities there. She has taken classes on positive parenting and infant/toddler CPR; socialized with other parents at book-club meetings and field trips; and made numerous friends from whom she has gleaned parenting advice.
Connie’s family also receives home visits from the HFCC. Even though her family does not live in Mount Oliver, they are eligible for in-home services because their home is located within a reasonable driving distance from the HFCC.
In any discussion regarding funds allocated to childhood education or services, there is always dissent from citizens who do not have children. As the argument goes, “I don’t have kids, so why should my tax dollars go to taking care of someone else’s problem?”
The answer: Children are our future. Today’s children are tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, journalists, waitresses, gas-station attendants and convenience-store clerks. By investing in their futures, you are investing in your own.
In other words, if you don’t make the investment now, you’ll pay for it later.
Research indicates a direct link between early childhood services and lower rates of adulthood criminality. Why pay for an inmate’s stint in prison when his or her crime(s) could have been prevented in the first place?
Other studies show a correlation between early intervention and decreased rates of child abuse and neglect, and a correlation between early intervention and increased rates of school readiness and success.
If you’d like to help save local family support centers, click here to sign a virtual letter to Corbett and other elected officials.
Or, join one of many community rallies on May 6 to raise public awareness. The HFCC will be holding a rally that day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of its facility.