Women’s History Month recognizes and pays tribute to the commitment of women who worked hard to make change for the better. Dr. Claire Walker, recently retired executive director at the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF), continues this tradition of commitment and is being recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion for it.
Her history as an advocate started with her early work as a social planner for the Reading Model Cities Agency. There Claire learned of a problem where people went to jail simply because they couldn’t afford bail. After organizing a mock trial and helping residents to learn the facts, a new program to assist those in need grew from her efforts.
During her tenure as the research director at Health and Welfare Planning Association in Pittsburgh, she developed the first day care voucher program for children with parents on welfare that allowed them to integrate with those not in the program. Helping children in situations like these to become less invisible sparked a calling for Claire Walker. “My passion comes from the recognition that we all start as children and everything important happens there,” Claire said. “What happens to children affects their adult lives and all too often their voices are quiet and unheard.”
As policy director for the state Department of Public Welfare Office of Children, Youth and Families, she led the initiative to national compliance with welfare regulations. Due to changes, Pennsylvania children were on the verge of losing money unless the Commonwealth created new standards. Claire worked to rewrite these rules to complement the new regulations and safeguard that the department upheld the very best way they knew how to treat the children. She then created the services to do that. To ensure that these rules became reality, Claire became the executive director of Family Resources.
This position led to her time at the Child Guidance Foundation as executive director. Her task involved discovering the issues that no one discussed about the children of incarcerated parents in Allegheny County and being the children’s voice in these issues. Between 12 and 15 percent of Allegheny County children will grow up with a parent in jail during their young lives. Approximately 8,500 of these children currently live separated from one or both of their parents due to incarceration.
“At a time when people were not talking about how hard it is to grow up when your parent is in jail and you are alone, Claire found a calling to rally the world around. For the past ten years, she worked tirelessly to identify potential solutions that would ultimately change lives in Allegheny County,” said Charlotte Brown PhD., President of Board of Trustees of PCGF, who nominated Claire as a Dignity & Respect Champion. “Claire has dedicated her professional life to advocating for children.”
As their advocate, Claire worked hard to change the system by examining how the losses affected them and then gave the research to those most poised to assist. “The greatest joy I hav
e is seeing those in the legal system honor their words and respond by working to help the children,” Claire said.
Charlotte Brown comments,”Claire is a special person. She is a listener, a learner, a wise person who makes a difference by taking action and making things happen. Thanks to her dedication and vision, thousands of children in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and ultimately the nation have the promise of a brighter future.”
Reflecting on her prestigious career as a voice for the displaced and invisible children of incarcerated parents Claire states her belief that, “We’re fellow pilgrims on this planet. Everything I’ve done, even that which was most serendipitous, is an accomplishment. At each point I’ve said that I’m so priveleged to be able to do this.”
Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact andpromotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.