The Great Escape: Finding Family Support in Allegheny County
Patch Parenting Columnist Sarah Beth Martin tells us how her family has made use of the county's network of family support centers.
For a stay-at-home mom with two children younger than 3, "taking a break" is one of those things that is easier said than done. Luckily I have found an incredible resource that helps tip the scales back in my favor: a family support center.
Don't know what a family support center is? Allow me to explain...
It's a community-based center that provides parents and children with support services to nurture their individual and family growth. It offers services for free and operates without any religious or political underpinnings.
There are 27 family support centers throughout Allegheny County. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services funds them, and they are staffed with qualified individuals from highly regarded institutions such as UPMC. Though specific programs vary from center to center, each center offers a core of services targeted to families with children as old as 5.
My family takes advantage of many of the services offered at the Hilltop Family Care Connection in Mount Oliver. This particular family support center has a weekly drop-in playgroup for children ages 1-6. During this 90-minute playgroup, my oldest daughter, Maggie, enjoys a story, craft, snack and lots of play with other children while developing social and rule-following skills.
During that same 90 minutes, I enjoy the fact that, even though I must remain on site, I don't have to stay in the play room with Maggie but can instead attend optional parent-education classes on topics such as healthy cooking on a budget and nurturing parenting. The benefits of such parenting classes nicely dovetail those of the playgroup - my child and I get some much-needed time apart while we each hone important life skills.
My youngest daughter, Emmi, is only 7 months old but she, too, benefits from time at the Hilltop Family Care Connection. Once a month, they offer a Tummy Time class for infants who can't yet walk. In this class, I learn new activities to enjoy with Emmi as she reaches developmental milestones. Emmi, meanwhile, gains exposure to different places and people.
The center also offers a toddlers class, Jumpstart for preschool-age children, a new-mothers group, special events such as a multicultural dinner and a talent show and field trips where each child with parent or caregiver gets free, or drastically discounted, admission to places such as PPG Zoo, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and Trax Farms.
Visit www.alleghenycount.us/dhs/fpsupport.aspx for more information and a complete list of family support centers in Allegheny County. When looking at the list of centers, please note that off-site services, such as home visits, are limited to the area served. Most centers offering on-site activities such as playgroups invite any interested Allegheny County residents to participate regardless of whether or not they live in that particular area.