Meet the Department of Children Initiatives

This Bold Voices blog post was written by one of Allies for Children’s partners about a subject that is relevant to their work as well as ours. Today’s blog was written by:
Rebecca Mercatoris, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Children Initiatives.

(May 5, 2023) Founded in mid-2021, the Department of Children Initiatives (DCI) leads Allegheny County’s commitment to children and youth and the programs that serve them. DCI provides the local government structure to support equitable access to high-quality programming for children and their families through systems building, internal and external partnerships, and resource development. During the first full year of operations, DCI identified immediate priorities around supporting family access to quality child care and early literacy programming, ensuring quality program expansion, and supports for the early care and education (ECE) and out-of-school time (OST) workforce.  

In April 2022, DCI launched a county-level subsidized child care program pilot for Allegheny County’s working families through the Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC). Eligible families are above Pennsylvania’s Child Care Works (CCW) subsidized child care income limits but under 300% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines and meet CCW’s eligibility requirements for work and/or educational hours. The Allegheny County Child Care Matters Pilot (ACCM) is sharply focused on supporting children’s equitable access to stable, quality child care while allowing working families to maintain or increase their participation in the workforce. In 2022, 184 children in 122 families living in 52 municipalities were served by ACCM through 85 unique, non-relative providers. 

Building developmentally appropriate early literacy opportunities for Allegheny County’s youngest children is essential to ensuring all children are ready for kindergarten and to experience success in school. In 2022, DCI awarded a total of $252,796 to three organizations to support expansion of evidence-based early literacy programming across the county. Grantees have already served over 400 children through either new or expanded programs in unserved and underserved communities.

In 2022, DCI expanded children’s access to quality programs by supporting existing ECE and OST programs in increasing the number of children they serve. DCI released two funding opportunities and awarded almost $5M to high-quality child care and OST providers across Allegheny County. These DCI-funded providers are projected to add nearly 500 new high-quality infant and toddler child care slots, and over 600 new quality OST slots. In addition, DCI funded programming is working to create new certified home-based child care providers across Allegheny County to increase the number of quality, stable, home-based child care slots.

DCI recognizes that any expansion of ECE and OST programming is dependent on supporting the professionals staffing these programs. In 2022, DCI awarded grantees a total of $770,300 to design and implement a Workforce Readiness and Supports Pilot Program to increase the number of Allegheny County’s ECE and OST job-ready staff, support professional growth for existing program staff, and provide support to programs hiring participants. These grantees are projected to serve 150 individuals, in turn supporting child care and OST programs, and the families and children they serve.

Looking forward, DCI continues to prioritize child and family access to quality programming, stabilizing new and existing ECE and OST programs, and supporting the workforce through funding opportunities like the School-Community Summer Program Partnerships RFP, the Early Literacy Support Hubs RFP, and the continuation of the ACCM Pilot program by working in partnership with the many dedicated ECE and OST organizations in Allegheny County.