Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

40-Year Champion for At-Risk Children Retiring Fought for Those with Incarcerated Parents

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

40-Year Champion for At-Risk Children Retiring Fought for Those with Incarcerated Parents

Article excerpt

When Claire Walker was working on her doctorate in history from Columbia University, she found herself fascinated by the progressive era in the U.S. between 1886 to 1911, when the reform impulse emerged among wealthy women and the settlement house movement began.

Little did Ms. Walker, 75, know that one day she would be directing a descendant of one of those early settlement houses. The Pittsburgh Association for the Improvement of the Poor was founded in 1875 and eventually merged with the Child Abuse Prevention Agency to become Family Resources Inc., which became the largest child- abuse prevention and treatment service in Pennsylvania.

In the mid-1990s, she decided to leave the job as founding executive director.

"I was going to take a year off, but that didn't happen," she said, because Vic Papale, former head of the Allegheny County's Department of Children, Youth and Families asked her to head the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation, a small but effective philanthropic organization that promotes the mental health of children, including a 10-year initiative advocating for children of incarcerated parents.

Today really is Ms. Walker's last day on the job, though, after a 40-year career as a champion of children of at-risk families.

While Ms. Walker will still be involved with some of the foundation's projects, she will be succeeded, at least temporarily, by Pamela W. Golden, former board vice president, who will serve as interim executive director, effective Tuesday, to shepherd the foundation's strategic planning process that will begin in early 2013.

The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation has been around even longer, in different guises -- as a clinical center, it was active in promoting children's mental health in Allegheny County for more than 80 years. Established in 1930 as a center for psychiatric services for children, it was transformed in 1982 into a foundation to continue its mission after the clinic was absorbed into Western Psychiatric Institute.

Ms. Walker's own experience in academia studying reformers such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelly stood her in good stead when she found herself early in her career directing policy and program development for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's Office of Children, Youth and Families.

In 1980, she was charged with overseeing the rewriting of regulations governing child welfare agencies, affecting children under the supervision of the state and the juvenile justice system, after a federal law was passed requiring states to meet certain conditions in order to retain child welfare funding.

"One of the things the regulations required were intensive services to prevent the breakup of families," she said, something that had not been a top priority previously. But with the right amount of support, 85 percent of at-risk families "could stay together safely," she said. …

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