by Diane I. Daniels
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Officials of Three Rivers Adoption Council and Family Design Resources, Inc. are concerned about the quality of services provided to youths involved in the child welfare, juvenile justice, education, medical and mental health systems. “We want to increase and improve our services to youth, said Trisha Gadson, MS of Family Design Resources.
More than 100 people representing social service agencies in the medical, legal, educational and diversity professions were on hand during the recent two-day diversity conference sponsored by Three Rivers Adoption Council and Family Design Resources, Inc. The conference, held in Monroeville was entitled, “Diversity: It’s not just black or white.”
“Today our baby has been born,” said Jacqueline D. Wilson, MSW/LSW, CEO of the TRAC. “I encourage you to watch this child grow as it goes beyond formula to solid food,” she said, encouraging the audience to open their minds and get as much as possible out of the conference. Wilson and Brenda Lawrence, MSW, executive director of FDR, concur that it is not enough to accept individual differences but to celebrate those differences within each other. Inclusiveness means all-encompassing and embracing, which must be encouraged in every sphere of our lives, including our workplaces. Ensuring sensitivity to diversity is critical if we are to provide effective and high quality services to children and families, they stated.
Excited about the interest and that many people attended their first conference, Lawrence pointed out that to get something you never had you have to do something you have never done.
Pleased to have nationally recognized diversity practitioners take part in the conference, the conference planning committee aimed for participants to stimulate thinking; to encourage and support difficult conversations; to provide new knowledge and abilities to enhance best practice skills and to provide a charge to view diversity through new lenses.
Sharon E. Moore, Ph.D., kicked off the conference in a powerful way. Showing excerpts of “Imitation of Life,” a film that depicts a White widowed single mother with dreams of becoming a famous actress, taking in a Black widowed single mother who becomes a nanny for her daughter. Eventually becoming a successful stage and screen star, she sacrifices a healthy relationship with her daughter. In addition, the Black widow’s light-complexioned daughter causes her mother much pain and heartache as she attempts to pass for White and shuns both her heritage and her mother’s love. Leaving the audience emotionally involved in the movie Moore challenged the co-ed audience to look at their biases and cultural competencies.
The Clairton native pointed out and compared the population of children under the age of five to 18 within the United States and Pennsylvania even though she said adolescents have been extended to the age of 22. In the U.S., the children population under five is 19,175,798; five to nine is 20,549,505; 10 to 14 is 20,528,072 and 15 to 18 is 20,219,890. In Pennsylvania the number of children under five is 727,804; five to nine is 827,594; 10 to 14 is 827,945; and 15 to 19 is 850,986. During her presentation she explained the lifespan development of children, stressing that each has the potential for greatness. “Don’t count the teens on the street out,” said Moore. “Some youth never receive positive affirmations in their lifespan.”
Throughout her presentation, Moore identified youth lifespan development, Black and White racial identity development and discussed the “Maslow Hierarchy of Need” theory.
Moore is a professor of social work at Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville, Ky. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, she considers herself a lecturer, author and educator. In 2004 she was awarded the Presidential Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award by the University of Louisville for outstanding work in the area of teaching human diversity. She is the first African-American to be granted tenure in the history of Seton Hill University of Pennsylvania and the second African-American to become a full professor at Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work since the program began in 1939. A special speaker panel took place during the conference that included Marcia Sturdivant, Ph.D., deputy director, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families; Candi Castleberry-Singleton, MBA, chief inclusion and diversity officer, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Eleanor Bush, Esq., legal services training specialist, Family Design Resources, Inc.; and Joseph Petrella, Ph.D., assistant superintendent, Gateway School District. The panel, moderated by Gadson, “A Discussion of Diversity and Inclusion: Necessary Facets When Working with Families, Children, Youth and Communities,” addressed the critical nature of diversity and inclusion in the practice of serving children and families.
TRAC, a multi-service agency operating in the region since 1979 provides recruitment, information and referral services, counseling, family preparation, post-adoption services and parent and professional education services, to achieve and maintain maximum permanency opportunities for children and their families. The agency services children who cannot remain with their birth families and the resource families who provide them permanence. TRAC officials report that more than half of the children they serve are African-American. Many are older and/or part of a sibling group that needs to remain intact.
FDR is a non-profit agency that offers training, consultation and program development to professionals serving children, youths and families. Based in Harrisburg with offices within the region, the group offers the combined expertise of more than 100 social service, education and legal professionals. Since 1999, its proactive approach has succeeded in developing strong public and private partnerships.
In the midst of doing the wrap-up for the conference and pleased with the turnout, Gadson, one of the many organizers of the event, says it exceeded their expectations. “Many of the participants felt there was and is a need for such conferences,” she said. “Diversity, it’s not just black and white.”