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Pew Sets $56-Million Effort To Create Children's-Services Systems in 5 States

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The Pew Charitable Trusts this fall will select five states to participate in the initial stage of an 11-year, $56-million effort to overhaul their social, educational, and health services for children into a unified system.

The initiative "is based on the belief that we now know enough about what works for children to incorporate that knowledge on a national scale,'' Dr. Thomas W. Langfitt, the president of the Pew Trusts, said in announcing the effort.

Most state-level children's services tend to be fragmented, reactive, and crisis-oriented, said Wendy C. Wolf, the president of the Center for Assessment and Policy Development, a Philadelphia-based research organization that will administer the initiative for Pew. Often, she said, several different agencies work with the same child without any formal mechanisms for pooling information and resources.

'Family Centers' a Focus

In the first stage of what Pew is calling "The Children's Initiative,'' the philanthropy has invited 14 states to apply for five $100,000 planning grants; it plans to announce the winners at the end of November. After an 18-month planning period, Pew will narrow the field to three finalists, with each state receiving $1 million to $2 million annually for nine years.

One of the major components of the initiative is the creation of a network of "family centers.'' Located near schools in each community, the centers will provide social, psychological, and medical services. Special emphasis will be placed on improving services for children from infancy through age 6.

A typical center might provide immunization clinics and prenatal care, family-counseling services, a lending library of books and toys, and a referral service to help families gain access to other public and private resources in the community.

Ideally, Pew officials said, each center's employees would include several family-development specialists, a nurse practitioner, a support staff to plan family activities and classes, several outreach workers, and a resource staff to help families determine their eligibility for state and federal assistance programs.

The centers would offer their own services to families regardless of income.

One element that sets the Pew effort apart from other foundations' large-scale initiatives is its plan to institutionalize state-level policy changes from the outset. A key objective will be to develop policies that foster collaboration among health, social-service, and education agencies.

Each state will be expected to launch the program in two communities by the end of 1997, expand it "significantly'' to other areas by 2000, and have it in place statewide by June of 2003.

An Ambitious Undertaking

Although Pew is one of the nation's largest philanthropies, the new initiative is unprecedented for it, both in terms of the size of its financial commitment to a single large venture, as well as the broad nature of the reforms.

"This is the most ambitious and the most risky effort of this scale that the Pew Trusts have ever taken,'' Dr. Langfitt said when the program was announced in June.

Although foundation officers would not speculate how much it will cost states to implement the reforms, they acknowledged that the initiative will require a significant financial commitment. Pew expects, however, that the upfront investment will ultimately yield savings in the form of lower long-term health costs, decreases in juvenile delinquency, and reductions in welfare dependency, among other improved social outcomes.

"Strong families are in fact the best cost containment that we have'' said Ann Rosewater, a senior consultant to the Center for Assessment and Policy Development and the former staff director of the House Select Committee on Children and Families.

Douglas W. Nelson, the executive director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said Pew's initiative was "an encouraging additional commitment of a major foundation trying to be a constructive influence on public policy and the delivery of human services to families.'' The Casey Foundation recently embarked on two multi-state initiatives to improve foster care and mental-health services for disadvantaged children.

Mr. Nelson said that if Pew selects states where Casey's own initiatives are already in progress, he expects that the two foundations will work closely together to ensure that their efforts are complementary.

The states Pew has invited to apply for planning grants are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and West Virginia.

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