Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Starting next year, every newborn in Allegheny County will be welcomed into the world with Hello Baby, a wide-reaching and still-developing family assistance program from the Department of Human Services (DHS).

“Hello Baby is an initiative to ensure that every family in the county understands the supports that are available to them,” says Amy Malen, assistant deputy director for DHS’s Office of Community Services.

Speaking with NEXTpittsburgh, Malen explains that the parents of every newborn will receive information on the voluntary program soon after giving birth, both in the hospital and via mail. Should they choose to participate, families will be organized into three different tiers according to their level of need, with tier one being the lowest risk and tier three being the highest.

To organize participants, the county will rely on its in-house integrated data and analytics infrastructure, which is already used by DHS in its Allegheny Screen Tool to help human operators rate the severity of child abuse complaints. Launched in August 2016, the screening tool program made Allegheny County the first jurisdiction in the nation to apply predictive analytics to human services.

While participants at the first two levels of need will simply be plugged into the region’s existing network of support services, DHS officials are looking to create a whole new approach for families at tier three.

“At the highest levels of risk and need, we’re not necessarily reaching as many families as we’d like to, and some of the services we have don’t meet their needs,” says Erin Dalton, deputy director of DHS’s Office of Analytics, Technology and Planning.

To bridge that gap and create this key component of Hello Baby, the department released a request for proposals last week, looking for outside partners to design and implement a fresh approach to managing the cases of families and newborns with the greatest risk.

“We’re open to creative ideas,” says Malen.

In particular, Dalton says they want a better way of reaching communities that may have already had negative experiences with county services: “These are systems that may have failed people in the past,” says Dalton. “So engagement is really the first thing we’re looking for.”

A partner organization will be selected this fall, with a pilot of this key aspect of Hello Baby launching in a small portion of the county in January.

Given that so much about the outreach program has yet to be decided, Dalton and Malen declined to offer an exact timeline. But they vowed that the department would move quickly.

“There’s a lot of unknowns,” says Dalton. We’ll be “learning quickly and adapting, and then scaling as quickly as we can based on those learnings over the next year or so.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.