Supporting Families in Allegheny County

This post was written by Brianna Alex, a Health Educator at Allegheny County Health Department Chronic Disease Prevention and Maternal Child Health Programs.

What are FSCs?

There are 26 Family Support Centers (FSCs) located throughout Allegheny County, designed to complement already existing community services and resources. The services offered vary from center to center according to the needs of families.  Some services that these centers may provide include life skills, parenting help, support groups, counseling, parent-child groups, and home visiting services.

I partnered with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to assess the FSCs on how effectively they provide healthy food and beverages, nutrition education, physical activity, family education, professional development for staff, and food security. Based on the goals each FSC sets for themselves, I will help them receive the necessary resources and support.

Are the FSCs doing well?

Each FSC completed a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) assessment in the fall of 2016 in order to gain a better understanding of what areas they could improve upon. Overall, the FSCs are providing a healthy environment for their children and parents! 83% of the FSCs provide fruits/vegetables to their toddlers/preschoolers at every meal. 91% of the FSCs incorporate physical activity into their programming with toddlers/preschoolers.

Is there any area where most of the FSCs lack resources or support?

In the coming months, I will help each FSC identify areas of improvement and provide them with support and resources.  For example, through the HEAL assessments it was found that only 5% of the centers have a variety of resource materials about breastfeeding. According to a study in 2012, only 55% of mothers aged 20-24 initiate breastfeeding in Allegheny County. The skin-to-skin contact that occurs during breastfeeding is important to newborns because they are able to form strong bonds with their mothers. Research also suggests that breastfed babies have lower risks of type 2 diabetes, ear infections, diarrhea and vomiting, and sudden infant death syndrome. 

In what ways can we help the FSCs?

There are many ways we can help the FSCs with encouraging their mothers to breastfeed at home. For example, we can provide the FSCs with professional development opportunities like staff training via webinars or in-person classes. We can write about breastfeeding tips that they can then add to their monthly newsletters. We can provide the FSCs with pamphlets, brochures, or posters to give to families. We can educate parents about breastfeeding by having a lactation consultant attend their parent council meetings. By having each FSC decide what is the best way to reach their own families, we are able to impact a variety of communities in Allegheny County.