I guess it’s only natural to view the world through the lens of our own experiences and understanding when we first consider a new situation. I find being the father of three healthy, happy boys to be both consistently rewarding and frequently difficult. We don’t have any major concerns. There are no problems that keep me up at night worrying about their future or what I can do to help them live full lives. But I think, there ought to also be situations that cause to open s up to empathy and consider what the world looks like for another person, another family, another father.
Learning about the stories and work done at The Children’s Institute is one of those occasions. This Pittsburgh institution has been working to see children, and in turn their families, not only survive but thrive for well over 100 years. In its early days, the Institute’s work meant not just quality of life, but often life itself to the children who were cared for. Today, while the issues are still varied and serious, the work centers on seeing children thrive
Each individual who receives care is full of potential and deserves the opportunity to see it unleashed. The skillful staff at The Children’s Institute help this happen.
The Children’s Institute has three primary programs (all multi-faceted) that operate out of the main facility in Squirrel Hill as well as five satellite locations around the southwestern PA region. As you begin to learn about The Children’s Institute, you’ll frequently hear phrases like “the only” or “one of the only” when the services and therapy that they offer are described.
I’d be WAY out of my depth if I tried to list, let alone explain, the extensive list of medical services and therapies provided on an outpatient basis by The Children’s Institute. I’ll direct you to the website for those specifics, but I want to emphasize that these services really are the focal point around which all the other care and development are able to advance. A wide variety of pediatric medical and behavioral impairments are addressed and healed so children can function and grow.
Many of the kids need a variety of therapies at once, and all of them are available here under one roof. Whenever possible, the family is incorporated into the therapy plan so that caregivers can participate in and understand the care as it continues in other settings. There is a basic philosophy that seems to be infused throughout the institute: All of these kids are capable of amazing things; let’s help them get there.
The Day School is operated out of the Institute’s main campus and serves over 200 children and adults ages 5-21. This is a state-accredited private school where local children who meet the admissions criteria are able to attend free of charge. The goals here are about quality of life and helping each individual move towards independence in whatever way is most appropriate to their particular situation. The curriculum is broken down into three separate categories.
Autism Spectrum – Children on the autism spectrum are educated in a way that focuses on language and social skills. Teachers and therapists seek to analyze motivation and take a practical approach to best providing for the instructional needs of each individual. The program helps students better manage their behavior in ways that allow them to more fully participate in their education so that both academic and life skills can grow.
Multiple Disabilities Support – Other students at the Day School have two or more disabling conditions that place certain limitations on learning and life skills in a typical school setting. This educational track works closely with supportive therapeutic services to help the children practice appropriate skills through structured setting and even in the community. The focus is on positive reinforcement to encourage the greatest degree of transfer into real world settings.
Adult – When students from either program hit 18, the goal becomes to transition them towards the Adult prep program at The Children’s Institute. In this phase, teachers work with students to help them strive towards their greatest level of self-sufficiency. Here students are surrounded by the various support services that The Children’s Institute can offer so as to maximize growth.
But there is a understanding that as much support may not always be available to them in their daily lives, so growing towards greater levels of daily competency is very important.
A final, unique offering at The Children’s Institute is a program they call STAR. In short, Project STAR is case management services that help all children and families thrive. This takes shape in a handful of different ways.
The first goal is always going to be family preservation when possible. Case Managers will work with birth families to equip them with the emotional and practical tools necessary to see their children safely grow up at home. This often looks like coming beside a family to help them understand a child’s needs and connecting them with services and information necessary to best meet those needs
Additionally, Project STAR provides both Foster Care and Adoptive support to families who provide a home (short- or long-term) for a child with special needs. Learning how to provide the necessary care and family bonding required to see a child and family flourish isn’t necessarily intuitive, even for the willing. Case Managers with Project STAR work to see children and families get connected and grow via in-home visits and appointments at a variety of The Children’s Institute sites.
Here’s where I tell you about all the awesome ways that you can be a part of the work going on at The Children’s Institute. First off, visit the website. The services that are offered are extensive and I’ve really only scratched the surface of them here. If you are a family that might be eligible to receive help, or know of one, please have them reach out. What’s really important is that kids who need help are connected to these important services that are available to them.
Beyond this, like many non-profit organizations (even the well established ones) there is a real need for both volunteers and donations. The money received through various grants and government programs only covers a portion of the excellent care provided here. If you can jump in to supplement some of that with your time or money, I know that it will be put to good use.
As I walked the halls at The Children’s Institute, I couldn’t help but think of the legacy that has been created at this place. For nearly 120 years children have been coming here and seeing their hopes renewed. Truly a worthy mission if ever there was one.