04/01/2012 - Research has shown that a strong foundation built in the early years is essential to helping children develop the cognitive and social skills they need to succeed in school and in life. With support from the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services in Philadelphia, child-care providers, both homeand center-based, are receiving the assistance they require to better meet the developmental needs of their young charges. In addition, parents, teachers, and caregivers in the metropolitan region are receiving important training and tools that will help them to intervene early with poor children and youth who display signs of difficulty.
One of Pew’s partners, the Easter Seal Society, is training child-care providers on effective practices for children with physical and mental impairments, youngsters who have historically not been well-served by traditional providers. In the past year, the organization taught 322 teachers and classroom assistants representing 37 child-care programs.
This is just one of the many efforts undertaken by the Pew Fund, which supports organizations in the Philadelphia region that assist individuals—not just those at the youngest ages, but all along life’s continuum. They include disadvantaged children and their families; vulnerable adults, including the homeless and those suffering from mental illness; and the elderly struggling to remain in their homes.
In the Philadelphia area, about 20 percent of children are poor; in the city, more than one-third are poor. Pew is significantly invested in helping reduce the effects of poverty on children through nearly $9 million in funding for 47 rigorously selected organizations.
The Easter Seal Society, along with several other Pew Fund partners, is working to improve early childhood programs by helping them to meet standards for effective programs or professional development requirements of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Pew Fund also strives to address risk factors that could lead to more serious challenges as children age. As many as 14 percent of children between birth and age 5 experience social and emotional issues that could harm their development, according to a 2009 report by the National Center for Children in Poverty. These problems have immediate consequences, such as expulsion from child care, and can contribute to later difficulties in school, social relationships, and vocational success.
That is why Thomas Jefferson University, working in collaboration with child-care centers in three poor Philadelphia neighborhoods, is developing the skills of teachers and training parents and caregivers on effective strategies for interaction with their children, focusing particularly on those with disruptive behaviors. Another partner, the Public Health Management Corporation, is identifying children from birth to age 3 in several of the city’s homeless shelters and transitional housing facilities who are at risk of developmental delay. Those found not to be on target with appropriate milestones are linked with early intervention services. In the past year, the organization’s specialists screened more than 300 homeless children and are on track to reach their three-year goal of assessing 1,200 children.
Several Pew Fund grantees seek to bolster the prospects of low-income teenagers by strengthening their chances of going to college. Philadelphia Futures’ Sponsor-a-Scholar program pairs high school students, beginning in their freshman year, with adult mentors. They meet regularly to discuss how the students are doing in school and to talk about their college and career aspirations. In addition to this one-on-one assistance, the students participate in a weekly after-school program to develop essential academic skills, prepare for college entrance exams, and visit campuses. Each year, with the help of the Pew Fund, this program serves more than 200 students from 20 Philadelphia neighborhood high schools. In the past two years, 89 of 90 seniors have gone on to college.
Project Forward Leap, recognizing the importance of the middle school years to academic success, begins working with students when they are rising sixth-graders. The project annually serves nearly 300 students from schools in Philadelphia and the city of Chester. It offers students an educationally challenging, five-week residential session for four summers at area college campuses, supplemented by tutoring and enrichment activities during the school year.
By providing targeted support to some of the most effective nonprofits in the Philadelphia region, the Pew Fund seeks to alter the life trajectories of thousands of poor children. Pew’s commitment comes from a deep appreciation that what we do or don’t do now for vulnerable young people has implications not only for their future but also for the health and well-being of generations to come.