Pew Abandons Its Ambitious 10-Year 'Children's Initiative'

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The Pew Charitable Trusts, the nation's fifth-largest foundation, has abandoned a multimillion-dollar effort to overhaul how states provide social, education, and health services to children.

Foundation officials acknowledged last week that Pew had terminated the "Children's Initiative,'' a 10-year plan it unveiled in the summer of 1992 to spend $55 million to $60 million on revamping children's services. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992.)

The Philadelphia foundation has spent about $5 million on the project, most of which was awarded through the intermediary organization administering the initiative, the Center for Assessment and Policy Development in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. The figure includes five $100,000 grants for states selected to participate in an initial planning stage: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Minnesota.

"We determined we just did not think it was feasible, and that the goals could not be accomplished within the time and resources anticipated,'' said Carolyn H. Asbury, the director of Pew's health and human-services program.

Originally, Pew expected to select three finalists this year, and award each state $1 million to $2 million annually until 2003.

"We're very disappointed,'' said Pamela S. Zappardino, the director of Rhode Island Families First, the state's coordinating body for the project. About 400 people from government, business, school districts, and other organizations had been involved in the effort, and the state had invested about $300,000.

The board of the Pew Trusts has authorized its staff to explore the possibility of awarding up to $4 million in funding for related projects in what Ms. Asbury described as "two of the most promising states:'' Georgia and Minnesota.

At the heart of the children's initiative was a plan to create a network of "family centers.'' The centers, which would be near schools, would provide services ranging from prenatal care to family counseling to book- and toy-lending programs.

The Fallout

The first indication that something was amiss came as a "big surprise'' to Sherry F. Jelsma, the secretary of the Kentucky Education, Arts, and Humanities Cabinet.

Several weeks before the official announcement, the five states participating in the initial stage received a memo from Pew saying, "Don't plan any activity past March 1, and don't expect to be funded past March 1st,'' Ms. Jelsma said.

She estimated that the state had dedicated at least $1 million worth of staff time to the initiative.

"The reason it didn't work is that they gave us a vision and said this was a shared vision,'' Ms. Jelsma said, "but it was already packaged in a box with a bow around it, and you couldn't get it out of the box.''

"If we had not been selected to receive a grant, we would have accepted this graciously,'' Gov. Brereton Jones of Kentucky wrote in a March 11 letter to Rebecca W. Rimel, the president of the Pew Charitable Trusts. However, he added, "we never anticipated that an organization as reputable as yours would decide to discontinue the initiative entirely.''

"I am confident you and your colleagues realize how devastating this decision was for our state and the others who were participating,'' he continued. "I am also confident that it will have an effect on future participation in the Pew Charitable Trusts initiatives.''

Ms. Jelsma and Ms. Zappardino said their states will move ahead with plans to develop collaborative integrated-service systems for children and families, despite Pew's withdrawal of support.

While Ms. Asbury of Pew said it may have been a lot easier to just move ahead, "we think it may not have been the prudent thing to do.''

In interviews last week, other foundation leaders said that they were saddened by the initiative's demise but that they understood Pew's reasons for the decision.

"Like everybody else, we were disappointed,'' said Douglas Nelson, the executive director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Greenwich, Conn., philanthropy that has supported efforts to integrate education, health, and social services. "But,'' he added, "our commitment to this kind of grant-making strategy and this kind of partnership with state and local governments is actually deeper now than it's ever been.''

Barbara B. Blum, the president of the Foundation for Child Development, agreed. "We shouldn't be walking away from the concept,'' she said. "We should be trying to understand what level of commitment and what level of investment will be required in order to achieve what had been proposed.''

Vol. 13, Issue 28, Page 9

Published in Print: April 6, 1994, as Pew Abandons Its Ambitious 10-Year 'Children's Initiative'
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