In the late 1970’s, at risk children in Philadelphia were not being provided the mandated services necessary to help them live a healthy life, and the agencies that were supposed to ensure that those services were delivered were failing. That relatively weak child welfare system left a startling number of children at risk, and inspired a group of mainline women to form a child advocacy organization called Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.
In large part, PCCY was born out of a desire to make sure that the government and the non-profits providing those services did their jobs. Nearly one-third of the city’s children and youth lived in households with incomes below the poverty level in 1980, a three-fold increase since 1970. PCCY would bring light to the hidden costs of poverty including illiteracy, juvenile crime, poor health, child and teen pregnancy, and despair.
Since the early 1970’s federal and state expansion of the child welfare system required some form of citizen participation, but barriers to citizen influence, including the timeliness and accuracy of public information and overall complexity of the system, was leaving children vulnerable.
Part of its proud legacy is of the “ladies in white tennis shoes” who took no prisoners, but in its infancy PCCY was a volunteer Board-driven entity that took on every issue and every politician hindering the health and well-being of children in Philadelphia. A report issued December 13, 1979, would lay the groundwork for four-decades of advocacy.
The Citizens Committee on Services to Children and Youth study revealed two critical facts, and lays the groundwork for the formation of PCCY:
- There are a large number of very important problems and issues in the children and youth system that reduce the effectiveness of that system in meeting the basic needs of children; and
- Concerned citizens in Philadelphia have very little influence in the effort to address these problems and issues in order to improve services to children and youth.
The study made 43 recommendations for change and improvement in the children and youth system, and opens the flood gates as one of the nation’s most effective child advocacy organizations sets forth in service to children.
Early on, much of the organization’s focus is on the juvenile justice system, and access to programs/services, which evolves over time to include any and all issues affecting the life and life chances of kids.
During the development of PCCY, the National Association of Child Advocate, later named Voices for America’s Children, is leading the national charge, but PCCY stands out as almost instantly influential and well-equipped for growth. From the day PCCY opens its doors, this group of motivated volunteers begins knocking on every influential door in the city.
PCCY becomes known as the organization that you went to you when you want to have information about the services affecting children. Board members and eventually staffers are often called upon to testify to City Council and the PA legislature. They take on the system and are credited with wins inside the walls of government, including helping influence the creation of Philadelphia Youth Services Coordinating Office, under Mayor Rizzo.
Early stories of working to leverage the influence of well-connected Board members show that PCCY knows how to move the levers of government through politics. An early breakthrough with Mayor Wilson Goode helps establish credibility. A political appointee serving as Commissioner of Human Services is the target, and PCCY succeeded in moving him out to be replaced with a stronger Commissioner.
PCCY builds great allies at all levels of government and uses its Board members’ influence to build powerful bridges. One such ally is Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare, Wilbur Hobbes, under Governor Shapp who recognizes the need for PCCY— and eventually joins the Board of Directors. Attracting someone who intimately understands the levers of government and complex budgets like Medicaid, becomes a hallmark of PCCY.
One of PCCY’s first hires is Jeff Ball, a Deputy Secretary of Child Welfare in the Schapp administration. With a master’s degree from the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work, he joins PCCY as a part-time staff person, and highly qualified professionals like him follow. Over the decades, PCCY attracts many staffers coming out of government.
One of PCCY’s first high-impact reports is aimed at exposing the extreme underutilization of the child health component of Medicaid called EPSTD, Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment. The EPST Program, which the federal government funded at 95% when most Medicaid required 40-45% state funding, was woefully underutilized in Pennsylvania — Philadelphia was using around 2% of it. The report ultimately helps persuade the state to approve a badly needed expansion of Medicaid in prevention and intervention areas. This project shows how a very well documented study would become so critically important to advocacy, and ultimately improves child welfare statewide, not just in Philadelphia.
Successfully recruiting Shelley Yanoff from the Goode administration as PCCY’s Executive Director in 1987 is a major milestone as Yanoff sets forth a 20-year-crusade for children, expanding PCCY’s issue base and sphere of influence.
PCCY responds to years of state cuts in child welfare programs by issuing reports and organizing a march on Harrisburg, bringing trainloads of people, including the Mayor and City Council representatives, to focus attention on the needs of children.
PCCY marks a legal victory in 1995 which addresses the complete implementation of EPSDT in Medicaid for children under 21. At the time, PA was moving into managed care but doing a poor job of making sure kids received all medically necessary care. PCCY and Don Schwarz become instrumental in creating settlement measures that could be used to assess the receipt of services ranging from well child visits to mental health screenings in both fee for service and managed care. The settlement of Scott v Snider helps kids across Pennsylvania.
The settlement provided a blueprint for managed care contracts and had an enormous impact on all Medicaid services for children, a much larger group of children than the number of kids on CHIP.
In the 2000’s, PCCY begins moving out across the greater Philadelphia counties, recruiting and attracting Board members to form a regional organization, advancing its mission and its name to Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
In 2012, Shelly Yanoff passes the torch for children to a new kind of leader. Donna Cooper, who served as Deputy Mayor under then Mayor Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania Secretary for Policy and Planning under Governor Ed Rendell, sets a high pace in pursuit of advocacy.