The Communication Alliance Presents at Early Literacy Conference in DC
On February 19, 2014, Ken Smythe-Leistico, Assistant Director of the Office of Child Development, presented at the Families Learning Summit and National Conference on Family Literacy in Washington, DC. The presentation titled "Communicate Better with Clients, Funders and Your Community" was based upon the Communication Alliance "The Science of Giving" workshop series, which has been running since April 2013. This workshop series has had remarkable success in Pittsburgh too, engaging 49 unique organizations and over 230 unique participants. The main feature of the presentation highlights research from behavioral psychology and invites people to think about how they are communicating to their audiences about their causes.
To see the presentation slides, click here.
For more information on this project, click here.

Two Presentations at the PA Early Childhood Education Summit in State College on October 24
1) Making Kindergarten Transition both High Quality and Engaging by Ken Smythe-Leistico
This engaging and interactive workshop will review what aspects of early childhood predict successful outcomes as children transition to kindergarten. The session will blend strategies that tie parent engagement, child "readiness", welcoming schools, and community support into effective transition practices. The session include a critical review of what makes transition activities good, better and BEST.

2) The Development of Materials for a Caregiver Training Program Aimed at Improving Children's Executive Functioning Skills and Reducing Child Stress by Afton Kirk and Hilary Warner
From being able to put things in a sequence to following instructions to being able to exercise delayed gratification, executive functioning skills are learned early on in life and impact us as adults. It is about helping the brain to have opportunities to learn these skills while the brain is still impressionable, as early as from birth.. Caregivers and program staff can use specific games and activities with the children in their care to garner these skills. The Office of Child Development has been collecting video footage and researching ways to provide support for executive function skills. Afton Kirk and Hilary Warner will be presenting a selection of short training videos which were designed to show caregivers how to help children exercise and develop executive functioning skills no matter where they are at. They will also outline the step-by-step process used to create the videos, demonstrating how attendees can create training materials for their own use. The 3 hour workshop will be taking place at the PA Early Childhood Education Summit in State College on October 24.

Dr. Stephen Bagnato Invited to Serve as Expert on UNICEF Interdisciplinary Panel for Material Development for Child Disability Manual
Dr. Stephen J. Bagnato, Ed.D., Professor of Psychology & Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and the Office of Child Development (OCD) and core interdisciplinary team member at the LEND Center ( has been officially invited to serve as part of an expert panel currently working on the development of a manual and package of methodological guidelines, protocols, instructions, tools and training program/materials for an in-depth classification of child disability based on existing "best practice" observational approaches in resource-poor countries. These materials are being developed by UNICEF with inputs from a selected network of international experts. Dr. Bagnato will provide specific expertise to the panel in developing the manual, guidelines, and measurement strategies for global screening and assessment in the area of children’s social-emotional and behavioral functioning. Read more here!

Ken Smythe-Leistico, Assistant Director of the Office of Child Development, selected as an honoree for 2013's 40 under 40
The Office of Child Development would like to extend its congratulations to Ken Smythe-Leistico for being selected out of a pool of 220 nominees as one of 2013's 40 under 40. The awards will be distributed on Friday, October 25. The 40 under 40 program was established Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP and for fifteen years, has been annually recognizing 40 leaders in the Pittsburgh region whose commitment, passion, diversity, creativity and vision have enriched the Pittsburgh region. A complete profile of honorees will be published in Pittsburgh Magazine's November issue. Congratulations to Ken! Read the Q&A here!

Young Children Without Homes National Conference 2013
Toxic Stress and Beyond: Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
Jessica Woelkers, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant, and Andrea Rudek, Special Populations Coordinator, presented at the Young Children Without Homes National Conference 2013 May 20-21, in Cambrdige, MA. In their presentation, they shared their knowledge about the early childhood mental health consultation model implemented in housing programs for parents and young children. Data derived from this work was discussed in the context of toxic stress and the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, as well as how to best use this data to inform policy and practice. Also at the conference was toxic stress pioneer Jack Shonkoff, Professor of Child Health and Development at Harvard.

For more resources and for a copy of the presentation, click here.

Co-Director Robert McCall writes on Head Start in the Post Gazette
With the ongoing debates on the efficiency and effectiveness of Head Start, Robert McCall discusses compelling big-picture evidence that levels the playing field in having a balanced and clear understanding of what quality pre-K can do for low income children and society. Read more here "Does Head Start work? Quality Pre-K helps a bit short term but does wonders long term".

Laurie Mulvey Honored by Community Human Services
As Director of Service Demonstrations at the Office of Child Development, Laurie has been instrumental in improving the lives of children and families around our region.Community Human Services (CHS) will be celebrating Laurie Mulvey’s nearly 40 years of leadership in working with family services at the 4th Annual Community Ally Dinner and Benefit Auction! The funds raised through the dinner will support CHS programs, assisting more than 3,000 individuals and families experiencing economic hardship each year in Allegheny County.
The Community Ally Dinner and Benefit Auction will be held at 6:30pm this May 16th at Le Mont restaurant in Mt. Washington with a VIP Reception starting at 5pm. For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact Jon Hoffmann at

Heinz Endowments funds 8 for P.L.A.Y. project licensing!
Our very own Gloria Rodriguez-Ransom, Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist, is one of 8 trainees to become licensed in The P.L.A.Y. Project Model to service families in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. In April 2012, OCD, PAEYC and Chatham University collaborated and hosted Dr. Solomon, MD and The Play Project in Pittsburgh with the Heinz Endowment. The Heinz Endowment funded 8 trainees to become licensed in The Play Project Model. The licensing process entails video review supervision over the course of 18 months. In an effort to support this supervisory process PAEYC and OCD sponsored a Peer Supervision Dinner where consultants left with a $200.00 worth toy chest for implementing. The Play Project Model. Dr. Richard Solomon, MD developed The P.L.A.Y. Project Model based on The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR®) Model. The P.L.A.Y. Project is an intense intervention for families of children with Autism.

Watch the videos in our In Focus video series that detail all of the Office's Projects

The Office comments on the new Russian Adoption Ban
Read our statement about the Ban.

The Office Welcomes Aisha White as the New Director of Pathways to Kindergarten Success (September 2012)
We are pleased to announce that Dr. White is the new Director of Pathways to Kindergarten Success, the position vacated by Ken Smythe-Leistico when he moved into the office's Assistant Director position in July. Congratulations Aisha and welcome aboard!
Ray Firth testifies on behalf of homeless children
On August 3, 2012, Policy Initiatives director Ray Firth testified at a hearing for the DHS Children, Youth, and Families 2012-2013 needs based plan. Firth requested that an initiative to systematically work on prevention and intervention for young homeless children be included in the plan. His full testimony is available here.

Article by Colleen Young published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Colleen Young, Projects Manager, explains the connection between kindergarten attendance and student achievement. As Young says, "The transition to kindergarten sets the tone for a child's educational experience for years to come." To improve long-term student outcomes, programs facilitating children's transitions to kindergarten have been developed to support students and encourage regular attendance. Read the article here.

Staff Changes! (July 2012)
We're pleased to announce that Ken Smythe-Leistico has moved into the position of Assistant Director of the Office of Child Development, and Kerry Ishizaki is officially the Director of the Communications Division. Congratulations to them both! Read their biographies here.

'Emerging Leader' Ken Smythe-Leistico Featured in Harvard Family Research Project
Assistant Director Ken Smythe-Leistico contributed an article to the Harvard Family Research Project describing his work in developing the Kindergarten transition program, Ready Freddy. Read the article here.

Kidsburgh Launches New Website
Pittsburgh is Kidsburgh, a community-wide initiative to make Pittsburgh "the best place for kids on the planet," has a new place on the web. Kidsburgh hosts news and features on area events for children and families, people working on behalf of children, and local organizations devoted to kids' causes. Visitors to the site can also subscribe to Kidsburgh's quarterly newsletter and visit Pop City's Kidsburgh page for more kid-related Pittsburgh news.

Fostering Communication Pathways between School and Afterschool: A Homework Initiative
Working in collaboration with the PPS Afterschool Manager, the Office of Child Development has designed a series of activities to support students’ homework success by fostering communication between a middle school and the afterschool programs attended by its students. Read More