03/20/2009 - In 1908, residents of Massachusetts voted in favor of a new state law requiring its most populous cities and towns to provide playgrounds for their youngest citizens.
The legislation was the culmination of a decade-long effort by a coalition of child advocates who were urging municipal governments to construct spaces where children could play under supervised conditions. Proponents believed that in addition to being safe spaces for children, supervised play areas offered opportunities for young people to learn important life skills such as good manners, moral conduct and sportsmanship. By 1910, the playground idea had become a national movement involving 55 cities and towns, including Philadelphia, and 113 colleges and universities were giving courses on playground design and operation.
Today, after-school and out-of-school programs continue to provide opportunities for youth to nurture the skills necessary to become productive citizens. The need has never been greater. A 2002 report estimated that young people spend approximately 80 percent of their waking hours—the time before and after school, weekends, the summer and other school breaks—outside a formal education setting. According to the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool and Youth Development Network, close to 340,000 young people in the commonwealth regularly spend time after school without adult supervision, making them susceptible to risky behavior.
In 2008, the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services in Philadelphia helped 26 organizations provide high-quality out-of-school activities for approximately 9,000 disadvantaged children and youth in the Philadelphia region. Certainly, the activities have progressed considerably from the pioneering days of the playground movement. Pew Fund grantees involve young people in such endeavors as the creation of community murals, filmmaking, playwriting, composing and, of course, sports. Seven of these programs offer intensive, year-round academic classes to improve school performance and prepare young people for college and other postsecondary opportunities. This year, nearly 200 students from these programs are going on to college. Recognizing that high-quality early-education experiences are key to a child’s later success, the Pew Fund is helping improve the ability of local child-care and early-education programs to prepare children for school. As a result, more than 2,000 children are attending programs with higher-quality learning environments, more developmentally appropriate curricula and more qualified teachers.
The Pew Fund also supports efforts that help parents and other caregivers with children exhibiting early signs of potentially harmful social and emotional problems. These youngsters have often been exposed to violence, show difficulty paying attention, frequently lose their tempers or defy their parents. With Pew support, caregivers—both parents and professionals such as child-care workers or Head Start teachers—receive counseling and training on how to correct problem behaviors. In view of the challenges parents have in finding treatment for children with more serious diagnoses, the Pew Fund works with agencies that directly assist these families to obtain appropriate services for their children in a timely way. Nearly 2,000 children and families are receiving needed mental health services.
In addition to efforts for poor children and families, the Pew Fund provides operating and project support to nonprofits serving frail, low-income elderly who are at risk of institutionalization and adults who face significant barriers to independence, including substance abuse, homelessness or chronic mental and physical health problems. With Pew support, in 2008 approximately 18,000 seniors obtained benefits and services that helped them to overcome isolation, depression and other health-related conditions that threatened their ability to remain safely in their homes.
The Pew Fund also seeks to bolster the effectiveness of these organizations in challenging times through support to the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning. With financial and technical assistance from OMG, 27 health and human service organizations in the Philadelphia region are making improvements in such areas as program assessment, financial management and analysis, new program development and leadership-transition planning and preparation.
Finally, the Pew Fund addresses important public policy issues that affect vulnerable individuals and families in the Philadelphia area. In July 2007, Governor Edward Rendell signed legislation that, for the first time, authorized the establishment of standards for assisted-living residences in Pennsylvania, a significant development in the state’s provision of long-term-care services. With operating support from Pew, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project assembled the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Consumer Alliance, a network of 29 statewide organizations representing seniors and those with disabilities. During the last year, alliance members have provided significant comment on proposed assisted-living regulations to ensure that the needs of elderly and disabled consumers are safeguarded.
Over the next year, the Pew Fund will continue to provide vital support that enables local health and human services organizations to help young people grow into productive members of the community; assists those with long-standing disabling conditions to function more effectively; and helps frail elderly people to live independently.
Frazierita D. Klasen
Director, Pew Fund for Health and Human Services in Philadelphia
Deputy Director, Philadelphia Program
Read more about Pew's work in Pew Prospectus 2009 (PDF).