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Improved Child Welfare Practices Earn Allegheny County Status of National Model

The content below may contain dated material as it was prepared for the media in advance of the G20 in Pittsburgh in March 2010.

Heightened public awareness of child abuse and neglect, rising poverty, the continuing dissolution of the family, and the introduction of crack cocaine during the 1990s all contributed to a tremendous surge in child dependency cases in Allegheny County and across the nation.
Complaints on the alleged lax handling of criminal background checks of people with whom the local child welfare agency placed children reached a fever pitch in February 1995 and resulted in the resignation of the agency Director. Fallout around the simmering controversies continued to disrupt an orderly course of business in Allegheny County’s child welfare system and beyond. A national search was launched immediately to find a new director who would “overhaul the agency.”  Marc Cherna was appointed Child Welfare Director in early 1996. Ten years later, Cherna was honored by the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators with the Betsey R. Rosenbaum Award for Excellence in Public Child Welfare Administration.

Since that time, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) has made major advances in the way it safeguards the children and families in the county. Both CNN and ABC sent correspondents to Allegheny County to examine and publicize the sea change. In fact, in April 2005, the national news program, ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, highlighted the team approach used by the child welfare system in Pittsburgh, (Allegheny County) PA. The segment, pdf.gif Rise in Child Abuse Called National 'Epidemic,' pronounced Allegheny County a “national model” according to child advocates. Pierre Thomas of ABC News shadowed a caseworker from the DHS Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) as she worked with the mother of an at-risk family of seven. He reported that the goal of keeping children safe and with their birth family is achieved through a diverse selection of prevention and support services.

Then in June 2006, the National Family Preservation Network met in Pittsburgh for its annual board meeting. NFPN highlighted 3 CYF policies that they believe account for the agency’s effectiveness in preserving families.

DHS attained this standing by focusing on prevention and involving families in the process of keeping their children safe at home. When a family enters the child welfare system, they are given A Parent’s Handbook, a resource about their rights and responsibilities as parents. Family Group Decision Making and other family-focused solutions keep the child’s parent(s) and extended family integral partners in the effort to maintain or restore family unity.

DHS continues to strive for better outcomes by working to integrate all services for children and families, across the systems of child welfare, mental health, mental retardation, early intervention, developmental disabilities, juvenile justice and substance use. Work on the Improving Outcomes for Children and Families in Allegheny County Initiative began in 2007.