What began with a discussion
of whether western Pennsylvania needs to refine its thinking about how children
and families are served has broader initiative to build upon existing resources
and improve the well-being of children in the greater Pittsburgh area.
An ad hoc group of advisors
to the Grable Foundation, known as the Grable Community Cabinet, has taken the
lead in shaping a strategy to rally policymakers, practitioners and the public
around an agenda for making Pittsburgh "the best place to be a child and to
raise a child."
To a large extent, the
precise steps necessary to achieve that goal remain works in progress. However,
two broad approaches have been identified. One is to better weave together
people and ideas to strengthen the region’s network of providers of services
for children and families. Another is to find ways to amplify the voices of
children and youth so they might contribute to the public dialogue on issues
that affect them.
“Its strength is trying to
put the needs and issues of children, adolescents, and families out in a broad
public manner that will be much more effective at engaging the community,” Ray
Firth, director of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development’s Division
of Policy Initiatives, OCD supports. “In that context, it is a great effort and
it links nicely to promoting the region as a place to live and work.”
Engaging The Community
In December 2007, the Grable Foundation gathered 10 leaders of nonprofits
that work with children and families to explore the status of children in
western Pennsylvania, the region’s strengths as they relate to child
well-being, whether there is a need to disrupt local thinking about how
children are served, and other issues. The nonprofit leaders had been convened
to advise the foundation, whose mission is focused on ensuring the healthy
development of children.
Information was gathered from a range of sources, including sessions with
leaders in education, human services and health care, such as Children’s
Hospital of Pittsburgh CEO Roger Oxendale, Allegheny County Department of Human
Services Director Marc Cherna, and Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of the Pittsburgh
The Community Cabinet studied other?U.S. cities that have citywide
children’s agendas, including Santa Clara, Calif. and St. Louis, Mo. and they
made a fact-finding trip to Toronto, which has embraced a children’s agenda
that includes regular progress reports, a children’s advisory committee that
reports to city government, and a 10-year blueprint for providing integrated,
comprehensive, high-quality children’s services.
“That was an exciting place to start because it challenged us to think
about how Pittsburgh matched up and whether there is more that we should be
doing,” said Linda Miller Krynski, who chairs the Grable Community Cabinet.
The information-gathering process produced encouraging evidence about
services available in western Pennsylvania and identified areas that can be
improved. “We have terrific things happening here for children and families,”
said Krynski. “But there are other cities that are further ahead at pulling it
Among the cabinet’s key findings was that the well-being of children often
depends on where they live in the region. They noted that local services could
be better coordinated and local government and the community at large needed to
work together on a comprehensive children’s agenda. Pittsburgh also lacks a
region-specific report card that would help measure child well-being and
whether progress is being made at addressing areas of concern. And the cabinet
found that children’s stories and voices are generally not heard when policies
are debated or developed that affect their lives.
Two Big Ideas
The findings helped the Grable Community Cabinet develop two initial
approaches to making Pittsburgh one of the nation’s most child-friendly
regions. Over the past year, some progress has been made toward adding detail
to the strategies, but much work remains.
One strategy is to more effectively connect practitioners, educators,
policymakers and others whose work is critical to the well-being of children
and families and to kindle greater public awareness of children’s issues. By
weaving people and ideas, the cabinet hopes to promote collaboration,
innovation, and efficiency in children’s and family services, and support for a comprehensive
children’s agenda in the region.
“The goal is efficiency, more collaboration, and more coverage,” said
Grable Foundation Program Officer Kristen Burns. “But it also goes hand-in-hand
with innovation. When you get all of these smart people together who care about
the same issues, things start happening.”?
Steps taken so far include establishing a blog on the Grable website devoted to
discussion of children’s issues. Another strategy the cabinet recommended was
to hold a regional leadership conference for later this year. Such a conference
is being organized by Leadership Pittsburgh, Inc. and will focus on children’s
and family issues. The conference attempts to replicate the Technology,
Education, Design (TED) talks that have been conducted across the country for
the purpose of convening experts in select fields to stimulate discussion and
new ideas on topics ranging from science and education to economics and world
Other strategies still being developed include raising public awareness of
children’s issues through articles in local publications, creating multimedia
materials to disseminate information to stakeholders, strengthening school
districts as sources of information and support for children and families, and
drafting a partnership agreement in support of a shared vision and commitment
to improving child well-being.
The second approach toward creating a more child-friendly region is to give
children a stronger voice in the community than they have today.
A stories project, for example, has been developed to teach children to use
communications technologies such as gigapan, audio-radio production and online
media. In addition, the project teaches them effective ways of expressing their
views, ideas, goals and needs.
“Everyday people in this city in positions of power are making decisions
that affect children whether they know it or not,” Burns said. “They might be
decisions about kids and kid’s services or budgets that will come back and rest
on the shoulders of kids. It’s hard to imagine a decision that doesn’t in some
way affect children and families.
“It is important for those people to hear the voices of children so they
can incorporate those viewpoints into their decisions. It is also important for
children to know how to express their views and tell their stories in a way
that can be heard and it is important to their self esteem to know that people want to hear those
stories, that they matter.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the Grable Community
Cabinet, visit the Grable Foundation website: www.grablefdn.org/cabinet.html.