From the exquisite artwork that adorns the walls of the offices of Sharon McDaniel Lowe, Ph.D., founder of A Second Chance, Inc., there is an attitude of compassion, commitment and professionalism. Those attributes of the president and CEO, as well as her dedicated employees, are the basis of a genuine passion that has catapulted the non-profit entity into a most successful venture.
SHARON McDANIEL LOWE
The only known organization in the country that exclusively provides “kinship care,” Lowe proudly states that the origin of the name hails from African roots. The American Heritage Dictionary describes kinship care as “family relationship…connection by blood, marriage or adoption.” But for Lowe, the description goes far beyond that entry. Her definition includes a combination of historical significance and a deeply-rooted compassion for the young.
“Kinship care occurs when children are unable to remain in their birthparents’ homes.” They are “placed in the care of relatives, family friends or other individuals with whom they have experienced a positive, continuous relationship,” thereby providing a safe environment and healthy transition. “Kinship care is the preferred placement as a source to continue continuity of family…the full time nurturing of children needing out of home care.”
“ASCI,” Lowe states, “opens a world of possibilities, including the privilege of maintaining cultural identity and contact with the birth parent(s) and/or siblings. The goal of reunification gives the birthparent(s) the opportunity and desire to improve lives and home environments.”
Losing her mother at the age of two, Lowe’s father made a difficult decision to place his three young children in the care of his extended family network. “Because of that relationship, many positive things occurred within my own life.” Growing up in the love of that environment provided a solid foundation of resolute determination and unyielding courage for the woman who describes herself as a “risk-taker.”
Lowe combined her impressive educational background and extensive business experience with her deep concern regarding “relative placement as a viable resource to children requiring out-of-home care.” Her career within human service organizations and the child welfare system provided the insight and the “opportunity for me to give back in a way that I could inform the system on how to work with children who are placed in extended family care.”
On July 17, 1994, with a staff of eight, ASCI opened the doors to a “world where all youth are given an equal opportunity to grow into responsible adults …where abuse and addiction cycles are broken.” Through education, the organization assists in providing a healthier environment, dialogue and response to discipline, enabling the child to grow, thrive and live a productive life.
Lowe emphasizes that “physical discipline is a temporary relief of one’s frustration and anxiety, and does not remediate the situation. Parents need to be aware of different strategies and techniques that we, as people, need to employ.” She notes that “corporal punishment has always been a way of managing people” from our history in slavery times.” ASCI provides the family with different strategies; discipline issues are stressed in the process to change these thoughts within the cycle that exists in the African-American culture.
By educating the birth parents in the role of discipline, the provision to provide a safe and healthy environment is achieved. Since a major portion of the caregivers are grandparents, the organization offers assistance to an aging generation who are accepting, once again, the responsibility of parenting young children.
“Grandparents and kinship care instills values and keeps family rituals alive,” she states, “as well as a wealth of knowledge and the continual cycle of the rich history of the African-American culture.” “Challenged by the challenges,” she is adamant about children remaining with the family. Believing that “early intervention has an impact on brain development,” Lowe is convinced that the interaction of “ASCI remediates the trauma associated with the disconnection from the birth parent” and the transition is lessened by remaining with the family.
Managing a staff of approximately 140 committed professionals in the Pittsburgh area, Lowe also heads a skilled staff of 43 in the Philadelphia office, which opened approximately five years ago. The private community-based non-profit agency strives to strengthen and preserve healthy kinship families for children, working in cooperation with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services-Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The organization services the many diverse communities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Included within this sphere are a variety of support services, geared toward assisting kinship caregivers to meet foster care requirements as established by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and the ACCYF. The staff also assists in the short-term, intensive reunification services for birthparents or aids in the adoption process, subsidized legal custodianship, independent living and aftercare.
“Currently, 62 percent of children within Allegheny County are with relatives and the stepdown methodology is placing more children with grandparents, aunts and uncles or extended family.” ASCI has serviced more than 11,000 children and the high rate of reunification is up to 60 percent. Under the watchful eye of A Second Chance and the Allegheny County court system, the kinship caregiver offers a team partnership role that helps to remediate the issues of the birth parent; thereby avoiding the policies of bureaucracy and maintaining an open relationship between the caregiver and the birth parent.
The month of April acknowledged National Child Abuse Prevention Month. But Lowe and her staff’s commitment and devotion is not a recognition of one month, but the safety, security and well-being of children is their personal 24/7, 12-month, 365-day endeavor.
A staff member summed it up when she stated that “Dr. Lowe does not want to be in a position of failing kids.” It is apparent that Lowe and her staff are guided by commitment, compassion and love for children whose paths are defined by the “conviction, dignity, respect and honesty” of A Second Chance.