By Mark Powell
A Helping Hand in Your Backyard
Sometimes, we need a friend to point us in the right direction. For 25 years now, when families living in Allegheny County have needed help, their local Family Support Center has been that helping friend.
Nearly 3,000 families receive services at one of the 28 centers located around the county. Many are medium and high-risk families with complex needs. A lot of participants are single moms who struggle to make ends meet or parents who struggle with substance use disorders. Others are families with child welfare involvement. The goal of the centers is to strengthen protective factors in families by focusing on child development and parenting education, and by helping families find connections and support in the community.
Each center partners with a lead agency that takes on implementation. Family Support Centers serve as hubs for families in various neighborhoods in the county. Parenting classes and support groups, home visits and check-ups, food assistance and connections to community resources are among the many services they provide. Because different lead agencies operate the centers, and the centers are located in distinct communities, services may vary from one center to another, but the core service areas remain the same: child health and well-being, positive parenting and child development, family preservation, economic self-sufficiency, and easy access to a comprehensive network of services.
While the centers can’t be all things to all people, they can connect families who need help with expert assistance. They listen to the needs of the families and welcome input. “Centers are parent-driven and staff-involved. We expect parents to participate in decisions about locations, the services and activities provided as well as staffing,” says Leslie Reicher from the Allegheny Department of Human Services.
One of these needs includes addressing addiction in the communities. Two of the centers recently partnered with POWER, a local organization providing recovery support to women in the community. They also have dedicated staff who conduct home visits to those affected by substance misuse. “There’s a need. We don’t want to pass addiction on to the next generation. We want to provide as much support as we can,” says Holly Cherpak, director of the Steel Valley Family Center.
While the centers focus on providing children the health and wellness services they need while also helping moms and dads acquire skills that will make them better parents, they also play an important role in helping to prevent children from falling into the trap of addiction later in life. Healthy children coming from healthy homes can make a better life for everyone.
Family Support Centers was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.