New Allegheny County Department focuses on giving all kids opportunities to succeed

Allegheny County has created a new department that focuses on children. KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen has more.

 Allegheny County government has created a new department focusing on children, get started Monday when its new director takes the helm. Kristine Sorensen reports it’s hoping to fill disparities that exist in many parts of the County as a study released last week pointed out.

KRISTINE SORENSEN: The study from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services found that children from low income families who grew up in well-off neighborhoods, ended up earning twice as much as children from disadvantaged neighborhoods. This department aims to close that gap and give all kids an opportunity to succeed.

Preschool is about more than playing and learning letters and numbers, it’s often the foundation for success in school and life. But not all families can afford it. It’s a goal to try and get all kids to be able to go to preschool even if they can’t afford it?

RICH FITZGERALD: Yes. And my goal is that when kids get to kindergarten, that they are ready to learn. The most basic part of that would be the ability to read at some level.

KRISTINE SORENSEN: Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald says this new department will fill gaps where existing programs can’t meet the need, in both early childhood education and after school care.

RICH FITZGERALD: If you have the after school, you’re continuing on to the learning, and the socialization, and the things that are– where kids just don’t have nothing to do after 3 o’clock and often that’s when they get into trouble.

KRISTINE SORENSEN: The Department of children initiatives was recommended by a working group formed after the 2018 failed ballot measure to raise taxes to fund children’s programs. The group said a $20 million budget would pay for 900 children to go to preschool and 1,500 to go to after school programs.

This department’s 2021 budget is about 440,000 but Fitzgerald says the director will work to secure additional money from foundations, corporations, and government, as well as possible short term funding from the recent CARES Act and American Rescue Plan. Fitzgerald says investing in kids pays off years later.

RICH FITZGERALD: And it’s a heck of a lot more expensive to incarcerate people and put them through that system than if they’re out there working, improving their community, benefiting their employers, paying taxes.

KRISTINE SORENSEN: Fitzgerald says he hopes this investment will begin to close the economic and racial gaps that exist in Allegheny County. He also hopes that with more kids in preschool and after school care, more parents can work to continue to improve the lives of their families.– I’m Kristine Sorensen, KDKA News.