PITTSBURGH CHILD GUIDANCE FOUNDATION HISTORY
1982 – 2021
The legacy of the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF) is one of a small, hard-working, and thoughtful grantmaker that is consistently evolving to create the strongest possible impact on the lives of the region’s most vulnerable children.
While it has redefined itself over the years, PCGF remains true to its beginnings. Since its inception 90 years ago as a direct service provider, the organization has endeavored to understand, educate, advocate for, and amplify the need to address the mental health and wellbeing of children.
The Foundation was established in 1982 as the successor to the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Center (PCGC). The Center was founded in 1931 to provide psychiatric services to children and their families, train mental health professionals, conduct research and promote mental wellness in the community. The Foundation upholds its founding tradition directing resources and advocacy to the support of children’s mental health and wellbeing, enabling them to grow into healthy, well-adjusted, functioning adults.
From Clinic to Foundation
On January 1, 1982, PCGC transferred its clinical services to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and began operating as a Foundation. In the early years, the Foundation discovered ways to have an impact with limited resources, and primarily funded proposals that supported research or services to children with diagnosable, severe emotional disturbances. While grant sizes varied, the focus remained on mental health of children 18 years and younger residing in the seven counties of western Pennsylvania that had been served by the Center.
Foundation Takes Shape
In 1987, the mission and vision of the Foundation began to crystalize. The sale of its Oakland facility on DeSoto Street to the University of Pittsburgh significantly increased PCGF’s endowment. With these changes, the Board of Trustees engaged in a long-range planning process that led to a revision in the structure of its grantmaking. Two-thirds of the Foundation’s distribution was to fund multi-year program grants while the remaining one-third would provide small awards to applicants who identified needs and requested support. This new grantmaking strategy defined the Foundation for the next decade.
Focus on Prevention
As the Foundation approached its 15th anniversary in 1997, founding Executive Director, Britt Alexander, announced her retirement. This convergence of changing leadership and an operational milestone sparked the desire of the Board and Executive Director to engage in a planning process that assessed the organization’s accomplishments and charted the course for the future. The process resulted in a series of decisions designed to increase PCGF’s impact on the communities it served.
This strategy focused on:
- Narrowing the Foundation’s scope to serve children aged 12 and younger;
- Narrowing the geographic focus to Allegheny County;
- Devoting at least half of its grantmaking to one significant issue—or Area of Emphasis—over periods of three to five years; and
- Reaffirming its focus on prevention rather than treatment.
Helping Children Build Competence and Learn Coping Skills
Following the completion of a community-wide survey to identify needs, the first Area of Emphasis was selected by the Board. In 1998, seven primarily faith-based and grassroots organizations received grants of $25,000 that could be renewed for up to five years and were used to support programs that helped children develop coping skills. The Board built-in an evaluation process to learn from its experience and incorporated these findings in the 2002 planning process for its next Area of Emphasis.
The Board’s deliberation to choose its next area of focus resulted in the addition of two new criteria:
- The Area of Emphasis should be both compelling and sustainable
- The Foundation was interested in addressing an issue affecting a large and growing number of children that was not yet on the community’s radar but had the potential to garner attention and support from other private and public partners.
Address the Losses Experienced by Children Whose Parents are Incarcerated
Following an extensive planning process, the Board unanimously approved work with community partners to address the losses experienced by children whose parents are incarcerated as its second Area of Emphasis. Over the 10-year period (2003-12), the Foundation applied most of its resources to achieving four goals:
- To document what happens to children of prisoners;
- To share findings of the Foundation’s research with the community;
- To convene key stakeholders to address the issues; and
- To join with public and private partners to create policies and practices that strengthen the emotional health and wellbeing of children of incarcerated parents.
Over the course of this decade-long initiative, the Foundation issued three Reports to the Community summarizing the results of its learning and efforts to improve the lives of children impacted by the incarceration of their parents. Expanded versions of these reports were also produced to provide a fuller picture of a decade of work to change lives and improve systems. Stakeholders who were engaged in the process and assisted in ushering in changes included the
Allegheny County Executive, the warden of the County Jail, the County’s Department of Human Services as well as several judges, attorneys and various nonprofit organizations that provided services to children and formerly incarcerated people.
Several educational videos were produced to raise awareness and encourage systemic change by various stakeholders. One video served the legal community; another amplified the voices of the incarcerated on the importance of staying involved with the family while incarcerated.
25 Years of Service
In celebration of the PCGF’s 25th Anniversary in 2007, supporters were invited to make contributions to honor “Champions for Children”—individuals who had a positive impact in the community while working with minimal resources.
In December 2012, the Foundation’s second Executive Director, Claire Walker, Ph.D., announced her retirement.
The second Area of Emphasis renewed the Foundation’s commitment to public education and advocacy and strengthened the Foundation as an independent voice for children in Allegheny County. While wrapping up several projects related to the Children of the Incarcerated initiative, the Board voted to engage in a strategic decision-making process that would consider the ongoing questions on achieving maximum impact as a small foundation and set the course for its future.
In 2013, the Foundation’s third Executive Director, Pamela W. Golden, MPM, was appointed.
At the annual meeting in 2014, the “Champions for Children” awards were presented to two organizations:
- Hilltop Community Healthcare Center and its physicians who take a wholistic approach to caring for a diverse population that includes bilingual caregivers, pediatric and dental care, and encouraging learning by giving books to all children ages 6-months to 5-years.
- The Pittsburgh Project, based on the Northside, was recognized for its work with fragile families that provided age-appropriate afterschool activities, summer employment opportunities for youth, vocational training, and social and emotional development.
Serving Families with Young Children Who are Experiencing Homelessness
In April 2014, the Board approved and launched its third initiative: serving families with young children who are experiencing homelessness.
Conversations with numerous leaders of social service organizations—as well as through interviews, panel discussions, and focus groups with those with lived experience—led to the development of a training series provided courtesy of PCGF in partnership with other nonprofits. Training was designed specifically for direct service providers working in the shelter care system, a profession where exceptionally high employee turnover creates significant challenges.
Direct assistance has been provided to numerous agencies in support of programs that mitigate the circumstances of those experiencing homelessness. These efforts include supporting the development of a mobile phone app, which can also be used on desktops, that enables those experiencing homelessness and service providers to access a myriad of accurate, relevant services; and research and planning grants that address policy issues. The Foundation has provided grants to sponsor children living in shelters for summer camp; to purchase equipment and toys; and to provide financing for small grants that can be the determining factor in a family’s ability to remain in a home or become homeless.
The Board of Trustees and Executive Director will continue to collaborate with community partners to identify, then address, the needs of children living in Allegheny County.
Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation is committed to making significant and positive differences in the lives of children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in difficult situations that can have a lasting impact on their lives and futures.
The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation looks forward to celebrating 40 years of service to the community in 2022.