Here are some scary statistics: a recent survey of families in East Liberty found that, in an emergency, 14 percent have left their kids with a person whose full name or address they didn't even know, someone who had "anger issues," or a person whose ability to care for their kids was in doubt. The results, for some, were children getting hurt or developing “big behavior problems.”
The solution is a relief or crisis nursery, say the two physicians who hope to found this first-in-the-city facility: Dr. Lynne Williams, an internal medicine-pediatric physician at East Liberty Family Health Care Center, and Dr. Tammy Murdock, an obstetrician-gynecologist who is a board member of the Family Life Fund of the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
"The city has a lot of resources in terms of child abuse prevention and parent education," says Williams, "but there is no emergency overnight care. Under the age of 6, there is no place for [kids] to go."
Dubbed Jeremiah's Place
after one of Williams’ mother’s foster kids and a Bible quote (Jeremiah 29:11 "… plans to give you a hope and a future"), the crisis nursery will offer respite care to families with kids up to 6 years old. Children can be dropped off without notice to relieve a variety of stresses on families: If a single mother is ill or needs someplace for a first child to go while she's delivering a second, for instance -- or if a parent needs help because he or she is worried about hurting the children.
The need is real: The pair point to reported statistics that show Allegheny County receiving more than 17,000 notifications of suspected child abuse or neglect in 2011.
"We won't assume that you're in any crisis," Murdock assures parents who might need Jeremiah’s Place. "You could be in a time crunch. You won't necessarily have to explain." Jeremiah's Place will aim for a home-like atmosphere, with a first-floor community center for parenting classes and community events, plus upper floors (and backyard) for the kids. Locations are still being scout along the Penn Avenue corridor to serve Wilkinsburg, Homewood, East Liberty, Garfield, Lawrenceville, Lincoln-Lemington and Larimer. The founders are also looking for $750,000 to $1 million to fund the project.
"Our goal is to provide for the safety of the child and be supportive of the family," says Williams. "We want them to feel that we are a partner with them."
And, says Murdock, staff will also ask parents, "’Next time, how are we going to work through this together? Are you going to come back here? Do you have supports in the community?’
There have been a lot of groups trying to help families backed into a corner,” he adds. “If we don't capture them, this will continue the cycle."
Know someone who needs similar emergency help with school age kids? Under the right circumstances, that may be found at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh
or, for older teens, UPMC’s Re:solve Crisis Network
. And you can sign up for the Jeremiah's Place newsletter
to receive updates.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Dr. Lynne Williams and Dr. Tammy Murdock, Jeremiah’s Place