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Family Services of Western Pennsylvania was incorporated in 1948; however, the agency evolved from mergers of predecessor agencies that date back to 1885. The earliest parent of Family Services was the Western Pennsylvania Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1885 to provide care for children who were abandoned, orphaned or unable to be cared for by their natural parents. In essence, this agency created Western Pennsylvania’s first foster care program.
Another early predecessor was the Civic Club, originally called the Child Labor Committee, formed to protect children from exploitation and to develop social resources for children in the community. This group merged into an agency named Associated Charities in 1908 and formed its own Children’s Bureau in order to be more aggressive in addressing the broader societal issues that affected children in the early part of the century. Internal strife led the Children’s Bureau to split from Associated Charities in 1913 and join with other child advocates in forming the Children’s Aid Society of Allegheny County.
Associated Charities became known informally as the Family Welfare Association, then as the Family Society and later as the Family Service Association. It became an important provider of casework services during the Great Depression and was involved in training people for the field of Social Work. In the early 1930’s the agency joined with the Buhl Foundation and the Urban League in developing the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.
The Children’s Aid Society, Children’s Bureau and Associated Charities under its various names operated separately through the various movements and developments in social services for children and families that occurred in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s until 1948, when they merged to form Family and Children’s Services of Allegheny County, later renamed Family Services of Western Pennsylvania. In the early 1950’s, the agency focused on bringing stability into the lives of children and families through casework, homemaker services, and foster care and adoption services. The 1952 Annual Report speaks of the agency’s effort to “turn impossibilities into possibilities”. This phrase became the theme of that document.
In its more recent history (since 1970), Family Services has remained a diversified agency, but has developed a particularly strong presence in the field of behavior health and counseling services. With the development of the Community Mental Health Act of 1965 and the successive state legislation in the Commonwealth, Family Services was named as Mental Health/Intellectual Disability services provider for the Allegheny Valley catchment area, serving both Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties. In 1969, this new program opened its first office in Tarentum with three staff members. As the 1970’s began, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began to move people out of its state psychiatric hospitals and into the community. As a result, Family Services instituted a wide range of aftercare services for individuals leaving Torrance and Woodville State Hospitals. In addition, the agency began prevention programs and life skills groups for children in elementary and secondary schools and started Drug and Alcohol treatment and prevention services in the community. The Mental Health/Intellectual Disability division has become the agency’s biggest program.
In 1980 Family Services extended its family-oriented services to focus on families of people who were incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons with the formation of the Families Outside program. This program provides transportation to allow families to visit the prisons as well as pre-release training in social adjustment and parenting skills. Also, during the 1980’s, the agency developed its partial hospitalization program, residential and intensive case management services, school based counseling, and a community based vocational program.
In the 1990’s and early 21st century Family Services developed a substantial employee assistance program as well as clinical services to the Allegheny County Family Centers. Family Services also instituted in-home services, including counseling for families as well as psycho-social rehabilitation. Most recently, a consumer loan program, related to the Welfare to Work initiative, was established to aid people in moving successfully off the welfare rolls.
As an agency with a substantial history of development, Family Services is at another point of historical change in social services. Welfare, as it has existed for more than 60 years, has been eliminated. As a result, the agency is challenged with helping people become empowered without relying on the previously existing social safety net. Public funding for social services has declined significantly, so the agency is challenged to find sources of private revenues to enable growth.