The following testimony was given to the Office of Children, Youth, and Families of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services on Friday, August 3, 2012 at a hearing for their annual "needs based plan." OCD Policy Initiatives director, Ray Firth
, asked that an initiative to systematically work on prevention and intervention for young homeless children be included in the plan.
The Youngest Nomads
Testimony Regarding the
Needs Based Plan and Budget for 2013-2014
Office of Children, Youth and Families
Department of Human Services
This afternoon I would ask that you
incorporate a systemic prevention and intervention initiative for infants,
toddlers and preschoolers residing in DHS homeless housing programs in the
Needs Based Plan.
These very young children represent
half of the children in families who are homeless. But due to Federal and State
policy, the homeless system is focused on the adult as the client.
Expectations, funding, and program policies focus on the adult. Children’s
needs are overlooked or are a secondary priority. If providers think of
children, it is to ensure school-aged children are enrolled in school. Federal
and state policy fail to reflect the growing
body of scientific evidence that early influences—whether positive or
negative—are critical to the development of young children’s brains and their
lifelong health. In partnership with
others, your office is well positioned to demonstrate to the Feds and
State how to serve these children and families correctly. By so doing, you will
reduce entry and reentry to the child protective services system.
Many families who are homeless already have many
connections with the Office of Children Youth and Families, and other DHS
services. Many parents have been in foster care themselves as children. Some
have lost custody of one or more of their older children, or, as they enter a
temporary housing program, are reunited with their children. As with many of
your families, substance
use, behavioral health challenges, and domestic violence are intertwined with
homelessness. This Needs Based Plan addresses the impact that trauma has on
children and families. Trauma is a "fact of life" for young homeless children,
as well as the school aged children who are homeless. Whether a toddler or 3rd
grader, it is likely they already have a lifetime exposure to traumatic
experiences as well as exposure to stressful and traumatic experiences while in
a homeless housing program.
The Department of Human
Services has been extremely aggressive and successful in obtaining HUD funding
for families who are homeless. The housing providers are well-intentioned and
hard-working but not experienced in addressing complex human service issues.
They work with very limited resources and capacity, trying to meet the complex
needs of an exceptionally challenging population. Housing program staffs
recognize there is a systemic lack of focus on the youngest children and nearly
all providers recognize that most or all young children in their care are
delayed developmentally, and/or show behavioral or social challenges. Yet only
10% of these young children birth to five are screened for developmental
delays, when it is likely that up to 50% of these young children will have
major developmental delays.
The Needs Based Plan
identifies many of the strengths of your program. If these initiatives are
integrated with the homeless housing program and other DHS services, DHS has the
potential to reverse the negative developmental trajectory that many of these
children will otherwise experience. From CYF, these families would benefit
Along with your interventions to
address trauma among these children, the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) has
provided extensive training for residential providers on trauma informed care
that would benefit the homeless housing providers. OBH would also be a key
partner in enhancing access to Early Intervention services.
Family Team Conferencing initiative;
Educational Development model, if it were to be applied to the integration of
DHS’s adult and child human service programs, and Pennsylvania’s early learning
programs now managed by Dr. Barbara Minzenberg;
Quality Service Review. This is particularly relevant for families who are homeless
in that it is intended to have a “big picture understanding and long term view
of the child and family”;
based interventions to address trauma.
Many providers who are not DHS
contractors stand ready to work with you. They are meeting already to identify
how to be of assistance as The Bridges group. This includes Maternal and Child
Health programs and early childhood programs such as Healthy Start, the Allegheny County Health
Department, Every Child, and the Early Head Start/Head Start programs.
In summary, I would ask that you
incorporate in the Needs Based Plan a DHS and community initiative for infants,
toddlers and preschoolers living in homeless families. These young children are
at very high risk for poor outcomes. Community partners are ready, willing and
able to work with you to address this need.
Thank you for the opportunity to
address you this afternoon.
of Child Development University of Pittsburgh