Facility puts focus on helping children

Stephanie Piper, independent living coordinator with Holy Family Community Services, holds an instruction booklet at a new facility on South Jefferson Street, Kittanning, during an open house event Friday.
Stephanie Piper, independent living coordinator with Holy Family Community Services, holds an instruction booklet at a new facility on South Jefferson Street, Kittanning, during an open house event Friday.
| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

KITTANNING – A new child-focused facility which opened its doors on Friday is the first of its kind in the county.

Holy Family Community Services (HFCS), of Ford City, held an informal gathering to celebrate the opening of a safe kids visitation and independent living apartment in Kittanning at 213 S. Jefferson St.

County commissioners, judges and staff from area agencies and nonprofits attended the open house.

Armstrong County Children, Youth and Family Services contracted with HFCS to provide services for area families at the Jefferson Street location.

The apartment provides a safe place for visitation and relationship building for families caught in custody disagreements and for families whose children are in foster or kinship care.

Now instead of meeting in the sterile office setting of a child welfare agency – which can be associated with traumatic or negative feelings – parents and children can visit in a supportive and more relaxed environment.

The apartment has plenty of comfortable seating in two living room areas, with one section devoted to a variety of toys, books and games.

The dining room leading into the fully-equipped kitchen helps make the place feel like a home.

Ginger Waltenbaugh, HFCS program supervisor, said the facility allows families to have more of a feeling of privacy, although trained staff is always within sight.

Feeling of privacy

She said staff members are able to step in to help parents meet the needs of their children and offer suggestions and guidance as needed.

The role of the visit program staff is to give guidance and support to family members before, during and after visits using a model developed by Marty Beyer, a child welfare and juvenile justice consultant with a Ph.D. in clinical/community psychology from Yale University.

Waltenbaugh said families can even celebrate holidays during visitation times or prepare and share a meal together.

“Dinner time and snack time can be a bonding time,” said Waltenbaugh.

“It's a lot harder to do in an office setting.”

The space also will be used as an independent living lab for teens who are in placement or who may have been in placement when they were 16 or older, said Armstrong County CYF Administrator Dennis Demangone.

He said independent living topics include the instruction and practice of activities like doing laundry, budgeting and preparing meals.

“This type of experiential training helps prepare young people to be successful – who are transitioning from the child welfare placement system to living on their own,” said Demangone.

Stephanie Piper, the IL coordinator, said she currently works with nine young people.

Having use of a kitchen will enable her to offer the teens and young adults hands-on training in independent living activities.

Piper's instruction also includes guidance and help in vocational research, banking instruction and college application.

Community effort

“It's really been a community effort to make this happen,” said Brian Keith Anderson, HFCS program director.

He said the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store in Kittanning furnished the apartment and the Apollo St. Vincent DePaul provided the facility with toys and a washer and dryer.

“Grace Presbyterian Church bought a brand new rocker,” said Anderson. “Every little bit helped.”

The facility will serve around 30 families and 60 children, said Anderson, but anticipates that number will grow.

He said President Judge Kenneth Valasek asked agencies like CYF and HFCS to come up with some solutions concerning visitation issues related to custody court battles.

The county needed a place where visitations could occur in a neutral setting that was child-focused, said Anderson.

Valasek said he is very pleased about the opening of the new facility.

“It's one of the things we've done as part of our initiative to help dependant children,” said Valasek.

Sister Linda Yankoski, president of the Holy Family Institute, attended the open house event and spoke about the benefits of the facility for those in need of its services.

She also praised the community effort which brought the facility to fruition.

“It's a true collaboration of non-profits, church groups and government agencies,” she said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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