DHS Announces New Efforts to Improve Services for Allegheny County’s Homeless Families

The Office of Child Development and the Education Law Center presented their findings and recommendations regarding young children and their families who are homeless to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) in response to a request for concept papers to improve the delivery of human services in Allegheny County.

DHS acted on those recommendations by announcing 3 initiatives to improve services to young homeless children and their families. Even though the PA Department of Welfare has been dramatically reducing funding for human services, DHS has re-allocated funds to create and improve their services to these young children and their parents by:

  1. Instituting an innovative model of "case management" known as Conferencing and Teaming for families entering the homeless shelters. DHS has designed this model to “promote the health, well-being and self-reliance of those served.”
  2. Initiating a comprehensive assessment of Allegheny County’s homeless system.
  3. Partnering with The Heinz Endowments to initiate and evaluate an innovative program to improve the outcomes for young children by creating family friendly spaces in two homeless shelters where young children and their mothers can spend “quality time,” supported by staff from Bright Horizons and The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers. The Office of Child Development and the Education Law Center have been the intermediaries in creating this partnership. The program will be evaluated by DHS and the Office to measure parent and provider satisfaction

There are 25 non-profit providers of housing and support services to families who are homeless in Allegheny County. There are a surprising number of families who are homeless locally and nationally, and infants, toddlers and preschoolers constitute almost half of the children who find themselves in programs for the homeless. Last year, approximately 850 children under the age of six were housed in Allegheny County’s programs.

In January of 2012, the Office of Child Development and the Education Law Center began their partnership to support local young children and their parents who are homeless, and to address the policy and practice issues of importance to the healthy development of young children.

In November of 2012, The Office of Child Development and Education Law Center shared their findings and recommendations with The Heinz Endowments and Department of Human Services. Those recommendations were designed to address the toxic stress that young homeless children experience at a time in their lives when chronic stress can disrupt the architecture of their developing brains.

This partnership was funded by The Heinz Endowments, a leader in enhancing the healthy development of young children and their families.