Vision 2026: The Children's Institute has big plans!


The Children's Institute has ambitious growth plans. Here's how it plans to get there.
By Paul J. Gough – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times


The Children's Institute is investing significantly in its workforce as the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit seeks to widen its services to the region's children with special needs and their families.

The organization has grown to serve about 8,000 families every year, whether it's autism services, behavioral health, physical health, family support services or education for children who have special needs. But CEO Wendy Pardee knows it's not enough, and under the newly launched Vision 2026 three-year strategic plan, sees The Children's Institute both add to its resources and also serve more children. She said among the goals in the strategic plan is to serve another 1,000 children over the next three years.

"We're going to strive for that," Pardee said.

The nonprofit concluded its previous five-year plan with an expansion in its services, including an autism clinic in Squirrel Hill as well as expanding its outpatient behavioral health services into schools. It also built up its telehealth services before the Covid-19 pandemic and didn't falter in serving its children and their families. It's provided upward of $17.7 million in uncompensated care over the past several years, something Pardee said has been critical to helping the region.

Pardee said the institute's goals include making sure it has the maximum impact in the region and supporting strong outcomes for the children they serve, as well as increasing its internal data collection to make sure it's doing so and also continuing to establish best practices that are used not only at The Children's Institute, but also elsewhere. It also wants to continue to introduce technology without losing the human interaction.

"We have lots of anecdotal evidence that we are a best-in-class provider, but we want to back that up with research and data that also reinforces that and continues to propel outcomes for children and families," Pardee said.

None of that is possible without the dedication and expertise of the 400-member staff, Pardee said. The Children's Institute has been working to increase compensation over the last several years.

"We're consistently looking at the market and figuring out how do we lead in this space," said Lauren Wright, chief people officer. Average raises had previously been about 3% and this past year they've been about 7%.

She said the organization also reached out to employees about the kinds of nonmonetary compensation they'd like to see and have recently brought in new benefits, including parental leave, extended bereavement leave and other programs. Pardee and Wright said that the benefit expansion was a way to reward its workforce while at the same time keeping them fresh in what can be a stressful but rewarding helping profession.

"The team very consistently said time and flexibility are ways to mitigate burnout," Wright said.

The Children's Institute is also ramping up staff recognition, and the efforts are successful. Wright said the overall efforts, which also included a retention bonus, have increased retention rates by 5% this past year.

The strategic plan is also working to increase the donor base for the organization, which allows The Children's Institute to do all the things it has planned as well as expanding and rewarding employees. That's expected to be a 15% or so increase on the up to $5 million it raises in a given year.

"Everyone's really excited about this plan and excited where we're going to be at the end of the three years," Pardee said. "There's a ton of possibility."


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