Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS)

Program Name

Immigrants and Internationals Initiative

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The Immigrants and Internationals Initiative was established in 2007 to support the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (and its stakeholders) in identifying and meeting the human service needs of immigrants and refugees through a combination of capacity-building, research, information exchange, and community empowerment activities. Integral to the Initiative is the Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council, a diverse group of community representatives (elected) who inform and advise DHS regarding the unique needs of local immigrants and refugees. Together, these entities seek to further the DHS vision of creating an accessible, culturally competent, and comprehensive human services system for Allegheny County residents, in particular, the county's vulnerable populations. In doing so, the Initiative and its Advisory Council serve the administrative and frontline staff of DHS and its contracted service providers, immigrant-serving agencies, and members of international communities themselves.

Program Description

The Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council is comprised of a network of local immigrant leaders and immigrant-serving professionals. The Council meets quarterly to identify human service needs and important changes within local immigrant and refugee communities, while exploring and developing ideas and initiatives aimed to address such issues. The Council also aims to:   

  • Support the DHS mission to deliver services that are culturally competent and inclusive
  • Reduce language and cultural barriers
  • Help immigrants and refugees pursue self-sufficiency
  • Improve access and utilization of the human services network for immigrants and refugees
  • Provide a forum for immigrant-serving agencies to share ideas and resources, collaborate, and form strong connections  

Much of the Advisory Council's efforts are facilitated by the Immigrants and Internationals Initiative (staffed by two county employees and several graduate interns) in collaboration with the Council's elected co-chairs and a number of standing and ad hoc committees comprised of council members and other community stakeholders. Initiative staff, council co-chairs, and committee members meet regularly to identify more specific issues and concerns, develop recommendations, and undertake related initiatives. Current committees of the Advisory Council include: 

  • Language Access Committee
  • Cultural Competency Committee
  • Children and Youth Committee
  • Workforce Development Committee
  • Senior Engagement Committee   

The Initiative also engages in additional projects that benefit DHS and its stakeholders, immigrant-serving agencies, and members of immigrant communities as the need and opportunity arise.  

Some specific efforts and projects of the Initiative, the Advisory Council, and its committees are described in the Program Outcomes section, further below.

Resource Materials Used in Program

The Immigrants and Internationals Initiative and Advisory Council are dedicated to identifying, sharing, and creating resources that benefit immigrants, refugees, and those who assist them. The Initiative develops and maintains several communication groups around specific issues (child welfare, career development, language access, behavioral health, etc.) and utilizes email distribution lists and periodic meetings to share and develop a range of resources.   

Some examples of resource-based projects are provided below:   

Web-Based Resources for Immigrants and Internationals: The Initiative maintains several webpages on the DHS website providing local, regional, and national information and resources of importance to immigrants and immigrant-serving agencies. http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/imm-intern/index.aspx#benefits_guide   

Cultural Competency Training Curriculum: Advisory Council members have developed and continue to implement a curriculum to train DHS staff, its contracted providers, and other human services organizations with international clientele. The aim of this training is to provide an enhanced understanding of and increased capacity for working with immigrant cultures.  

Immigration and Public Benefit Eligibility Guide:  In partnership with immigration professionals, the Initiative and Advisory Council compiled a DHS-published guide to benefit eligibility for immigrants geared toward practitioners and service providers in Pennsylvania: http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/immigranteligibilityguide.pdf   

Immigrant Behavioral Health Resource Network: The Resource Network is a collaboration of local stakeholders who strive to better understand and serve the behavioral health needs of immigrants and refugees in Allegheny County through information exchange, resource development, and capacity-building. Features of the network include a bimonthly newsletter, an email distribution list, and periodic events and training. A resource and referral guide is currently in development.  

Local Cultural Resources: Initiative staff and council members maintain a directory of local immigrant-serving agencies, affinity groups and religious organizations, updated and shared with interested parties.  

Translation of DHS Resources: DHS translated several of its brochures and handbooks for parents into Spanish, the most prevalent non-English language spoken in Allegheny County: http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/brochures.aspx. Translations in more languages are planned in the future.

Groups Served by Program

The Immigrants and Internationals Initiative and Advisory Council work directly with administrative and frontline staff of DHS, its contracted providers, and immigrant-serving organizations in Allegheny County to address the human service needs of vulnerable immigrants and refugees. By building the capacity of the human service network to meet these needs in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way, the Initiative and Advisory Council aim to serve the needs of vulnerable immigrants and refugees in Allegheny County.

Program Funding

The Initiative is staffed by two county employees and several interns who are primarily dedicated to the Initiative, the Advisory Council, and its committees. The direct time and efforts of council and committee members are provided on a volunteer basis.  

Furthermore, a recent DHS-funded collaboration of six local immigrant-serving agencies provides service coordination to immigrants and refugees through a common program model.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

As described above, Advisory Council members include local immigrant leaders, immigrant-serving professionals, and others who serve on a volunteer basis. Two co-chairs are elected to lead the Council by its members every two years.   

The Immigrants and Internationals Initiative is administered by a Program Manager and Program Specialist from the DHS Executive Office, with support from two to three graduate interns drawn from local university programs in public policy, international affairs, social work, and public health. The Initiative draws on the resources and expertise of other DHS administrative and program offices, and in turn provides resources and expertise to such offices regarding various issues related to immigrants and refugees. The Initiative and its stakeholders have also administered training to DHS staff and contracted service providers in areas such as cultural competency, language access (interpretation and translation), and working effectively with immigrant and refugee clients.

Program Evaluation

A recently published report documenting the history of the Advisory Council can be found here: http://www.alleghenycounty.us/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=37964  

The success of the Initiative and Advisory Council is also evident in the projects and programs they have developed or contributed to, some of which are described in the next section.

Program Outcomes

The Immigrants and Internationals Initiative and Advisory Council have contributed to the development and improvement of many projects and programs; a limited selection of these are briefly described below:  

Service Coordination: In response to a needs assessment of immigrant communities supported by the Initiative, DHS issued a request for proposals that resulted in a grant shared by six local immigrant-serving agencies to collaboratively provide service coordination to immigrants and refugees in Allegheny County. The program is called Immigrant Services and Connections (ISAC) and aims to serve over 2,000 individuals per year. Link to the DHS-published needs assessment: http://www.alleghenycounty.us/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=40189

Language Access: The Language Access Committee of the Advisory Council helped develop the Pittsburgh Language Access Network (PLAN), a language bank for limited English proficient speakers. Now in a capacity-building phase, this program aims to provide high quality, affordable and reliable foreign language interpretation and translation services. Initiatives of the committee have also contributed to increased access of LEP speakers to important local institutions in the fields healthcare, social services, justice and law enforcement.   

Cultural Competency: The Cultural Competency Committee of the Advisory Council has developed and continues to implement a curriculum to train DHS staff, contracted providers, and other human services organizations with international clientele. Since its inception, committee members have made presentations to dozens of DHS offices and community-based organizations reaching hundreds of administrative and frontline staff. The aim of this training is to provide an enhanced understanding of and strategies for working with immigrant cultures.   

Career Development: The Career Development Committee of the Advisory Council implemented the Refugee Career Mentoring Program, which operated for two years to assist individuals with advanced professional and academic backgrounds establish careers in the US. The Committee has also improved connections with PA CareerLink (one-stop federally funded career center), developed relationships with local employers and training programs, and plans to offer workshops on civil service employment.

Compass AmeriCorps: To support the efforts of local immigrant-serving agencies and refugee resettlement providers, Advisory Council members worked with AmeriCorps and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council to establish a local contingent of AmeriCorps members dedicated to providing social services support and English instruction to newly arrived immigrants and refugees in Pittsburgh. The program employs approximately 25 AmeriCorps members per year.   

Children and Youth: The Children and Youth Committee of the Advisory Council has served as a forum for providers to share information and resources, and develop new projects and programs. In collaboration with immigrant-serving agencies, specialists in early childhood education and family childcare, and a local microenterprise funder, the Immigrant Family Childcare Project was developed to train immigrant and refugee women to become home-based childcare providers.   

Aging: The Senior Engagement Committee of the Advisory Council aims to increase access and utilization of senior services by senior immigrants and refugees in Allegheny County. Members have developed relationships with local senior centers and program administrators toward meeting this objective.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Barbara Murock, Program Manager
DHS Immigrants and Internationals Initiative
(412) 350-5835
barbara.murock@alleghenycounty.us 

Andy Smith, Program Specialist
DHS Immigrants and Internationals Initiative
(412) 350-6368
Andrew.smith@alleghenycounty.us

Program Dates

This is an on-going initiative that started in May 2007.