"So many times, without realizing it, we parent as we were parented, so we make the same mistakes," says Sarah McCluan, supervisor of communication services for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. The 10 Family Support Centers
run by the AIU and funded by the state's Department of Public Welfare are there to provide help with new parenting techniques and much more besides, she says.
Covering Clairton, Duquesne, East Allegheny, Highlands, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Pittsburgh, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox, West Mifflin and Wilkinsburg, the centers serve families with at least one child 5 or younger. Services cover everything from help handling a colicky kid to assistance securing a GED or transportation for a job.
Mainly, says Lori Zimmer, program director of family and community education services, "we go into the home and we work with children and parents, making sure children are developing appropriately" and are ready for kindergarten. Each center also offers weekly parent and child groups focusing on development education, featuring speakers on such topics as nutritious, affordable meals. They each have a newsletter listing weekly groups, monthly family fun nights, field trips for younger children and events in their communities.
"We really listen to what the families needs are and focus our groups around that," Zimmer says.
Each center has a play area for kids with books and toys, and couches for parents. "It doesn't look like an office," she says. "It looks like a kind of a cool place where you can sit down and chat -- it's very different that a social services agency."
Lately, with the economy still struggling, families have come to the center for assistance paying for utilities or housing, says Laura Bosnak-Thompson, site director of the McKeesport Center, as well as for help with food and transportation, especially with the Port authority cuts.
"The cuts," says McCluan, "have really had severe consequences for a lot of families in the area and that also affects the children."
Services are free but call ahead; numbers are available here
. There is also a Latino Family Center on the South Side that draws people from all over Allegheny County.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Sarah McCluan, Lori Zimmer, Laura Bosnak-Thompson