Children First

The advocate for kids.

aka PCCY   |   Philadelphia, PA   |


The mission of Children First (formerly Public Citizens for Children and Youth) is to improve the lives of the region's children through thoughtful and informed advocacy. As a leading voice for the most at-risk children, Children First supports proactive approaches to ensure that every child gets off to a good start in life. We push for smart public policy solutions to meet the health, education, early learning and family stability needs of Black, Hispanic and low-income kids from birth through college. Children First combines comprehensive research and the tools of advocacy to mobilize partner organizations and citizens across the region to change the lives of children for the better.

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Ruling year info


Executive Director

Ms. Donna Cooper

Main address

990 Spring Garden Street Suite 200

Philadelphia, PA 19123 USA

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Formerly known as

Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth

Children First



NTEE code info

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (O01)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (B01)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (E01)

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

The mission of Children First (formerly Public Citizens for Children and Youth) is to improve the lives of the region's children through thoughtful and informed advocacy. As a leading voice for the most at-risk children, Childrne First supports proactive approaches to ensure that every child gets off to a good start in life. We push for smart public policy solutions to meet the health, education, early learning and family stability needs of Black, Hispanic and low-income kids from birth through college. Children First combines comprehensive research and the tools of advocacy to mobilize partner organizations and citizens across the region to change the lives of children for the better.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Closing Health Care Gaps for At-Risk Kids

Virtually all of the children who benefit from Children First’s programs and advocacy are low-income, about half are Black and 1 in 6 are Hispanic. Our lead efforts respond to a crisis that finds 2,200 Philadelphia children had elevated blood lead levels in 2018. Most had been exposed to lead in paint dust in poorly maintained rental units built before the 1978 residential lead paint ban. Pennsylvania is the second state in the country with the most children poisoned by lead, and, of the top 10 states with the most children poisoned, ranks second worst for testing. Further, only 25% of PA children are being tested at all.

After years of persistent effort, Philadelphia's City Council voted unanimously on September 26, 2019 to make the lead law universal. The law was enacted in October 2020. Moving into the next phase of Children First’s important work to rid older homes of lead-based paint, Children First is helping the City put the new lead law into practice. We are expanding and facilitating our coalition work in both Philadelphia and Delaware counties, assisting with their communications plans to promote the availability of testing and remediation. Additionally, to address the scourge of Lead Poisoning across Pennsylvania, Pritzker Foundation funding helped build a new, robust statewide coalition of 150 participants representing all regions across the Commonwealth. The state is working closely with us to collect data that confirms toddlers are tested twice by age 3 as Medicaid and CHIP require—and then set up its financial reward system for health plans and providers to achieve this benchmark. We anticipate adoption of this benchmark and incentive for providers to test kids twice by three in 2022.

Founded in 2015, our ongoing Dream Care campaign has a singular focus: to ensure that all children—including the estimated 24,000 undocumented children in Pennsylvania—are eligible to enroll in public health insurance. Children First has built a coalition of close to 100 organizations to educate state leaders about the health care consequences of the Commonwealth's failure to cover all kids.

Children First's short-term Health Advocacy Goals include:
1. Decreasing the risk of childhood lead poisoning and improving services to find and treat poisoned children by ensuring optimal roll-out of new lead paint protections

2. Decreasing the share of uninsured children with a focus on expanding coverage to undocumented childcare by persuading policymakers to expand public health insurance to unauthorized immigrant children.

In addition to Health Advocacy, Children First delivers direct services to our community. The Child HealthWatch Helpline assists 300 children to apply for Medicaid and CHIP each year and another 350 to resolve insurance or health care access issues. More than a third come from immigrant families.

Each year since 2009, Children First has hosted a free day of vision care at Wills Eye Hospital. In October, Children First delivered a safe, modified version of Give Kids Sight Day, strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocols. We targeted 475 children, 200 without health insurance; 166 received 2 pairs of free glasses and another 10% required follow up appointments for more serious vision or neurological issues.

Similarly, Give Kids a Smile targets children without health insurance who have not seen a dentist in the past six months. In April, we’ll recruit fourteen dental practices and book appointments for 325 low-income children (about half the number we would normally see, since the program started in 2004)—to optimize the safety of the dental clinicians and the patients—while delivering free dental care to those who need it most.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

We know that child poverty is one of the greatest predictors of life outcomes, and 90% of the children who benefit most from our work are low-income. Research shows the best way to help at-risk kids succeed is to find something they are passionate about and connect them to it. Therefore, Children First specifically expands access to arts education because it provides essential opportunities for these children to tap into their creative potential and build their motivation to do well in school.

Now in its 18th year, Children First’s Picasso Project makes mini-grants to teachers who innovatively deploy arts in traditional core content classrooms to demonstrably improve the quality of instruction and education in under-resourced Philadelphia public schools where arts and instructional supports are far too rare.

In direct response to the COVID health crisis, Children First consulted with teachers and principals to determine that, especially in this remote teaching environment, it is feasible and desirable to improve instruction in ways that implement arts in simple, creative ways. In a departure from the norm, smaller $2,500 mini-grants have been awarded to 20 Philadelphia public schools to bring professional teaching artists, working in collaboration with teachers, to enliven online classrooms. The funds will support 10 workshop sessions for students, in consultation with the teachers, between now and the end of the school year, in multiple artistic mediums (art, music, dance, theater, poetry and digital media), with a total impact on 5,000 students. The content of the workshops will be integrated in the class curriculum. Arts educators and classroom teachers will utilize everyday materials readily available in students’ homes so the goal of implementing arts to teach is feasible and not constrained by the availability or access to art supplies through the school. Also, in alignment with Children First's commitment to youth advocacy, the teachers will engage their students in advocacy activities that add student voices via the arts to support expanding arts education funding.

The primary beneficiaries of the Picasso Project are low-income children attending Philadelphia public schools. In the 2020-21 School Year, 85% of Picasso students were students of color, 71% economically-disadvantaged, and 13% English Language Learners. We work with students who are furthest from opportunity because numerous studies confirm that the arts are a lifeline for at-risk students. Champions of Change meta-analysis that aggregated the work of seven teams of researchers concluded: “Young people who are disengaged from schools and other community institutions are at the greatest risk of failure or harm. …Arts provided a reason, and sometimes the only reason, for being engaged with school or other organizations. These [students] would otherwise be left without access to any community of learners.”

Since 2003, 54,646 students have worked directly with 368 artists and other creative partner organizations to successfully complete 202 projects in 116 different Philadelphia public schools. For decades, Children First has been a grateful collaborator at the table helping inform and expand the District’s approach to integrating arts at the school-wide and classroom level. Our key partners are teachers, principals and the District’s Office of Arts and Creative Learning where we are seen as a “thought leader” for arts innovation and greater arts access in school.

For example, when COVID struck, a Picasso Project teaching artist worked closely with the Kensington Health Sciences Academy lead teacher to pivot and create a positive outlet for students to express their complex emotions and process the traumatic events of the shutdown and economic crisis as they struggled to adjust to isolation and online learning as their “new normal.” While "Imagining Our Future Through Visual Poetry and Book Arts" began in an art and literacy classroom, the project continued online. Projects were shared online, featured in an article in The Art Blog, and continued through fall 2020.

Picasso Project Spring 2021 Objectives: 1) 5000 students in 20 schools will take part in original, 10-part workshops specially designed for online learning; 2) All the projects will be completed before the end of June 2021; and 3) Educators at all Picasso schools will benefit from new and strengthened relationships with visiting artists. Success will be measured by Project Leads and Liaisons who will document each project with photos and quotes and capture data (# of lessons completed, # participating students, # of student projects created), in accordance with terms clearly stated in each grant agreement entered into between Children First/Picasso Project and each Grant Recipient/School. Additionally, surveys conducted with principals, teachers, teaching artists, and students will be used to gauge the impact of each project.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

Children First is a founder and co-chair of PA Schools Work, a non-partisan coalition of 30 organizations that was instrumental in enacting the state’s fair school funding formula and the appropriation of $790 million in state funds for public education in the last five years. While the sum of these increases is nearly $1 billion, much more needs to be done to realize the $2 billion more necessary for every Pennsylvania school to have the resources needed to offer a quality education. The success of this campaign will dramatically improve the educational outcomes of Black and Hispanic students in the state, as they are significantly more likely to attend underfunded schools than their white peers.

In addition to spearheading the PA Schools Work Campaign, Children First supports robust K-12 Education advocacy goals which include: increased resources to boost low-income, Black and Hispanic student outcomes by ensuring statewide digital access needed for learning such as reliable access to the internet, sufficient bandwidth, and basic technological devices; greater racial equity in access to educational resources by advocating for targeted funding to boost the share of Black and Hispanic students meeting math and reading proficiency; and improving low-income student performance by reforming the oversight and payments in the charter sector, with particular attention on passing cyber charter reform to stem enrollment, reduce costs and close poor performing schools. Further, to promote student leadership and advocacy, Children First is laying the groundwork to create a Youth Advocacy Council, Justice in Education, comprising student representatives from SEPA School Districts. These politically-engaged students from across the region will be trained, mentored and provided networking opportunities that incorporate their voices in civics and advocacy in a meaningful way.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

Young children get one chance to benefit from high-quality pre-K, and delayed investments mean not only lost opportunities, but higher costs to our children and our society for missing those opportunities. Children First is a founding partner and leader of the Pre-K for PA campaign, which has been a major driver behind the $145 million increase in state funds for pre-K since 2014. The campaign’s goal, pre-COVID, was to boost annual state-level spending increases in pre-K by at least $35 million annually.

Spurred on by Pre-K for PA’s success, a parallel campaign was launched in January 2019: Start Strong PA. Starting with the premise that every child deserves an equal opportunity to a quality educational foundation that will prepare them to grow, learn, and succeed, the campaign focuses on a child’s earliest development from birth to age three. The campaign aims to support healthy child development, working families and the economy by advocating for increased access to, and affordability of, high-quality child care programs, beginning with infants and toddlers. Pre-COVID, less than half the young children across the state were in high-quality programs, while less than a quarter of child care programs in the state actually met high-quality standards.

In spite of the pandemic and economic crises that brought the child care sector to the brink of collapse, Children First devised a sweeping set of local and state level advocacy goals for the short-term, to be advanced by the Start Strong PA and Pre-K for PA Campaigns.

Children First’s goals for the coming year include:
1. Protecting the level of state/federal funding for infant/toddler child care and Pre-K Counts/Head Start by working with parents, providers and partners statewide to ensure funds are sustained.

2. Increasing racial equity of access to high-quality early learning by persuading the state to complete a child care workforce analysis and building a coalition to press the state to regularly assess child care workforce needs.

3. Increasing access to high-quality Early Childhood Education for Dual Language Learners by building a coalition that creates a policy agenda aimed at increasing the use of state/federal funds to boost access and quality of Early Childhood Education services to DLL children.

Population(s) Served
Infants and toddlers

Children First has a history of supporting Philadelphia’s Vulnerable Youth. In 1990, we kicked off a twenty-two-year project to improve the way judges treated youth and considered their circumstances in sentencing. PCCY’s Courtwatch project relied upon trained volunteer citizens to observe, record and monitor what happened to the young people of Philadelphia who appeared in delinquency court.

Based upon that history, and eager to see more advocacy focused on improving the outcomes of youth involved in the Philadelphia dependency and delinquency systems, Children First has added a fourth policy area: Vulnerable Youth.

Our goals in this space are:
1. Engaging with key stakeholders to reduce the number of youth in Philadelphia sent to juvenile justice-related institutional facilities including jails, state-run detention facilities, as well as congregate care facilities in the dependency systems.

2. Developing models and methods to be adopted by policymakers to reduce disproportionality with respect to race and out-of-home placement in the dependency and delinquency systems.

3. Developing a model for a Philadelphia Youth Ombudsperson Office and securing appropriation to launch the office.

4. Developing a model and plan for educational assessment of dependency system oriented congregate care and institutional facility on-grounds schools and securing funding for the first round of assessments.

5. Building consensus on limiting the list of misdemeanors or technical parole violations that can trigger youth detention decisions.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

Children First offers the latest research on child health, early learning, education and family stability

Population(s) Served

Where we work


Community IMPACT Award 2010


Friends Award 2010

Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia

GroundSwell Award 2014

Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Restoring Ideals Award 2013

Tyler School of Art, WHYY and The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

Partners in Peace 2013

Mothers In Charger

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of children who have access to education

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Related Program

K-12 Education

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success


Context Notes

PA Commonwealth Court unequivocally ruled that the state’s current school funding system is unconstitutional. Children First helped bring the issue to the courts.

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Children First is among an elite group of organizations in the country that focus on the needs of the whole child, advocating for a full spectrum of policy solutions that are shown to improve the health, early learning, education, recreation, career and college outcomes for children.

Where government policies have failed to ensure our children are healthy, Children First steps in and recruits professionals who volunteer to deliver free vision and dental exams and free eyeglasses. For every child given this free care, Children Firstassists the parents to tap subsidized or free healthcare. Annually, more than 3,000 children benefit from our efficient approach to meeting these healthcare needs of children in our region.

Where government policies are blind to the needs of the most vulnerable children, we publish compelling reports and data to spur change. For instance, Children First casts a spotlight on weak housing regulations that put more than 10,000 children at risk of lead poisoning and convened lawmakers and stakeholders to craft workable solutions at scale. Similarly, Children First has made the underfunding of public education a widely known fact by publishing data that shows minority and low-income children face discrimination from Pennsylvania’s antiquated method of funding public education. To solve this problem, Children First gathered allies to press for reforms that have successfully directed $500 million in critically needed funds to the schools educating these children. And, compelling research on the development of a child’s brain caused PCCY to build a statewide campaign to boost funding for high-quality child care and pre-K programs. Now 70,000 children in the Commonwealth are enrolled in high-quality child care and pre-K and that number grows every year.

Where government policies lag in the research, Children First prods decision-makers to modernize so that children can excel and thrive. Arts education is one example. Our Picasso Project shows teachers how to connect traditional learning to arts in a way that motivates students to learn and increases what students remember from each lesson. Children First’s exciting work to transform classrooms and schools not only inspires teachers, it changes how students approach learning in ways that can help them far into adulthood. So, too, are services to our most vulnerable youth—those who have been abused and neglected. Our focus on delinquent and dependent youth demands that the government adopt proven strategies based on a healing paradigm that treats the wounds of a hard or abusive childhood in a way that causes each child served to thrive.

The way Children First works is simple. It changes the lives of children by documenting what they need and mobilizing citizens and volunteers to meet those needs. The work that Children First does is hard. It does the hard work needed to create a better future for every child and for all of society.

Children First is the region’s leading child advocacy organization committed to addressing the needs of every child. Publishing original research about children’s needs to raise public awareness is one powerful strategy to create change. We have developed and refined a three-part framework for building successful advocacy campaigns:

Research—undertaking comprehensive research to expose the critical challenges facing early learning and design data-driven and evidence-based policy solutions.

Mobilize—building powerful coalitions of organizations and citizens—including citizens whose children are most at risk—to advocate for practical solutions.

Engage—empowering citizens to meet directly with legislators and other decision makers to push for specific policy changes.

Recent health related Children First policy papers include: Reports on Child Health in the Suburbs, Behavioral Health Policy Work, Briefing Paper on Retaining Children in Medicaid; Getting the Reporting Right: Improving PA’s Lead Poisoning Surveillance Data Sharing, Making Philadelphia’s Lead Disclosure Law Universal Will Improve the Health of the City’s Babies, Pennsylvania Lead Hazard Remediation Programs, to name a few.

Every child should be able to see a doctor when they get sick. In southeastern Pennsylvania, more than 46,000 children do not have health insurance. They have too few places to turn to when they get hurt or fall ill. Children First is closing this gap by providing resources to parents to help them get publicly funded health insurance for their children. Our health insurance resources include directions on how to apply for Medical Assistance and CHIP, a child health helpline to assist families over the phone, and reports on the state of child health in the region. (Children First’s Child Health Watch HelpLine is promoted on flyers and layered tool-kits in English and Spanish, distributed widely across the five county Philadelphia-metro area.) The Dream Care Coalition—with close to 100 members—is working to make health insurance coverage available for every child in Pennsylvania, including children who do not have legal immigration status.

Children First’s Underwater: What’s Sinking Families? series of reports (by county) was released in 2019-20, detailing the erosion of the American Dream. Families earning close to the median income—income that should solidify their middle-class status—are drowning. When children suffer from hunger and poverty, the impact is immediate and long lasting. Research shows that child hunger and poverty is linked to poor educational outcomes and lower lifetime earnings. With a great number of families facing a day-to-day struggle to cover basic expenses, Children First works to promote policies and investments to strengthen safety net programs so more kids can eat healthy meals and families can provide a stable home for their children.

“PCCY’s history of using one hand to protect children while the other applies pressure to legislators is what sets PCCY apart.” This endorsement summarizes how we are a catalyst for policy changes to benefit children.

Read by 4th: We laid the groundwork for a collective impact strategy that has since leveraged over $30 million in private funding for early literacy in Philadelphia.

Pediatric health care: Children First’s free days of vision and dental care have delivered care to 13,700 uninsured and low income kids.

Pre-K for PA: Children First is a founding partner of Pre-K for PA, a statewide campaign to expand pre-k access to every 3 and 4-year-old child. Since 2013, an additional $100 million in state funding was added to the pre-k appropriation, enough for 12,000 more kid.

PA Schools Work: Children First is a leader of this campaign to push the state to fund public schools equitably and adequately. Since 2014, the campaign has mobilized support for a $880 million increase in basic education funding.

Children First has amassed an exemplary track-record to meet the complex and urgent needs of the region's most vulnerable children. We use research to motivate citizens and leaders to support policy changes that can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the poorest children in our region.

Noteworthy accomplishments include:
* In 1992, Children First built an innovative model for expanding access to insurance for children in Philadelphia. This pilot became the template for the state legislation creating the PA CHIP program. President Clinton used that template in federal legislation and funding—and soon every state created their own CHIP program in the image of the PA model.

* Children First was the force behind the first-ever “PA School Breakfast Challenge” which paved the way for 9,200 hungry students to begin their day with a free breakfast at school.

* In 2014, Children First organized a successful campaign to require Pennsylvania’s CHIP program to cover replacement eyeglasses, improving vision care benefits for 150,000 children.

* Children First was the catalyst behind the READ! by 4th campaign to double early literacy in Philadelphia, securing over $30 million in private funding to support the campaign.

* After more than a decade of Children First’s advocating for safe transportation for Philadelphia school children, SEPTA launched the “Student Transportation Pass” which provides free or low-cost transportation for thousands of school children.

* Since 2002, through Children First’s award-winning Picasso Project, over 54,000 students have benefited from arts-infused academic instruction involving 368 teaching artists in classrooms at 116 different Philadelphia public schools.

* Created the national model, Pre-K for PA, a statewide campaign to expand pre-K access to every 3- and 4-year-old in the Commonwealth.

* Built the coalition needed to enact a highly productive, dedicated local tax for Pre-K.

* In 2019, PCCY convened the Lead-Free Philly Coalition to pass the toughest law in the nation to protect children from lead poisoning in Philadelphia.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don't have any major challenges to collecting feedback


Children First

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Children First

Board of directors
as of 04/02/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Javier Suarez

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia

Term: 2023 - 2024

Estelle Richman

Former PA Secretary of Public Welfare

Ken Klothen

E2K Consulting

Jeffrey Pasek

Cozen O'Connor

Mike Ranck

Community YMCA of Eastern Delaware County

Frances Sheehan

Foundation for Delaware County

LaTi Spence

Attorney, TD Bank

Javier Suarez

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Renee Turchi

St. Christopher's Hospital for Children

John Summers

Hangley Aronchick, Segal and Pudlin

Phil Jaurigue

Sabre Systems

Renee Hughes

Hughes Consulting

Ann Rosewater


Darren Smith

Wojdack Associates Government Affairs

Harriet Lynn Starr


John Taylor

Archer Law Group

Lindsay Albright

Episcopal Community Services

Ira Goldstein

Reinvestment Fund

Saumya Ayyagari

National Nurse-Led Care Consortium

Donna Fields

Franklin Learning Center

Philip Fitzgerald

Citi Foundation

Marsha Gerdes

PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Ahaviah Glaser

PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

David Hackett

Cozen O'Connor

Leann Hart

Dow Jones

Diego Matamoros

Fisher Broyles

Lisa Panepinto


Shavon Savage

College of Education and Human Development at Temple University.

Staci Scott

North10 Philadelphia

Melody Wright

SAY/DO Strategies, LLC.

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 2/2/2021

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or Straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

Transgender Identity

Sexual orientation