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Focusing on a variety of education, health and youth development issues of importance to children and families in Pennsylvania.

Every Kid Needs a Family

There are more than 14,000 Pennsylvania children and youth living in foster care on any given day, and a national report issued today underscores the need for the commonwealth to do more to help these young people find safe, loving and permanent families.

The latest Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® policy report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, urges policymakers, child welfare agencies and the courts to work together in exhausting all means to find family-based settings for kids in foster care and remove barriers that would keep kin from being licensed and financially supported as foster parents.

The report is a much-needed reminder that kids placed in foster care do best in family-based environments, and it reinforces many of the findings in PPC’s annual State of Child Welfare reports:

  • Overreliance on group placements – or congregate care - hinders children’s well-being and unnecessarily drains taxpayer resources. Children and youth in group placements often lose their familiar routines from school, activities and their neighborhoods. Group placements also cost seven to 10 times the cost of placing a child with a relative or foster family.
  • Keeping kids connected to immediate or extended family whenever possible is best. When birth parents cannot care for a child, relatives can offer an existing relationship and connection that can make an eventual return home easier. So-called “kinship care” is better for a child’s well-being that group placements.
  • Foster families are the next best option for children when kin are not available. Children report overwhelmingly positive experiences with the foster parents who care for them, but foster parents must be supported with resources and services. Nationally, 40 percent of the families who leave foster parenting do so primarily because of inadequate agency support.

Every Kid Needs a Family recommends how communities can widen the array of services available to help parents and children under stress within their own homes, so that children have a better chance of reuniting with their birth families and retaining bonds important to their development. And it shows ways in which residential treatment – a vital option for the small percentage of young people who cannot safely live in any family during treatment – can help those young people return to families more quickly and prepare them to thrive there.

More information on PPC’s child welfare work can be found at our Porch Light Project website, porchlightproject.org.  

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Join the Campaign for Fair Education Funding

Every Pennsylvania student deserves a quality education no matter where that student lives. But Pennsylvania’s public school funding system is failing our children:

  • It does not provide enough resources to educate all students to academic standards.
  • It contributes to deficiencies in equal opportunity based on factors like income and race.
  • It is so unpredictable that school districts cannot effectively budget or plan.

That’s why Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children has joined the Campaign for Fair Education Funding - an unprecedented coalition of more than 50 organizations from across Pennsylvania - to ensure Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding our schools.

We need you to join, too.

The campaign’s proposed formula could enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success, and become productive, knowledgeable, and engaged adults.

Visit fairfundingpa.org to learn more about why we need a fair funding system and sign up to support this effort.

You can also follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

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May 14 Call to Action: It’s Time for Fair Funding for PA Students

Tomorrow (Thursday, May 14) is statewide “Call to Action for Public Education Day.” Join thousands of parents, students, teachers and community members from across the state to speak up in support of our public schools.

The message is simple: An adequate, equitable system for funding Pennsylvania’s public schools must be a top priority at the Capitol this budget season.

This effort will require a student-driven funding formula for basic education that strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically.

You can help us send this message to Harrisburg on Thursday by investing just a few minutes of your time. Here are three quick things you can do to make a difference on May 14:

  1. Call your state senator.
  2. Call your state representative.
  3. Call Gov. Tom Wolf’s office (717-787-2500) and encourage him to hold strong on his support for fair funding for public schools.

(Click here for talking points and instructions on how to find your legislator.)

Please take a few minutes on Thursday, May 14, to help ensure a bright future for Pennsylvania!

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Another Year of Missed Pre-K Opportunities

When it comes to offering high-quality pre-k, Pennsylvania still isn’t making progress, according to a new report out today from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

NIEER’s latest State of Preschool report finds that, among states offering publicly funded pre-k programs:

  • Pennsylvania has dropped to 15th in the nation (down from 14th last year) in pre-k access for 3-year-olds. Five years ago, we ranked 11th nationally.
  • Pennsylvania remains stuck at 30th in the nation in pre-k access for 4-year-olds – the same ranking we held last year. Five years ago, we ranked 24th nationally.

The good news is we know how to turn this around – and you can help.

The governor has proposed increasing state funding for high-quality pre-k by $120 million in the coming fiscal year so about 14,000 more Pennsylvania 3- and 4-year-olds can benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. This investment would increase access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k from about 1 in 6 of our 3- and 4-year-olds to about 1 in 4. It’s a big step in a much longer journey to make high-quality pre-k available to every family that wants it for their child.

Here’s how you can help: Tuesday, May 12, is Early Childhood Action Day at the state Capitol. Join us in Harrisburg to let state lawmakers know we need to invest more in high-quality pre-k. Can’t make it? You can still lend your voice by taking part in Virtual Action Day tomorrow.

You also can join the Pre-K for PA campaign’s Capitol Caravan and make a trip to the Capitol at your convenience to talk to your lawmakers.

With your help, more Pennsylvania children can benefit from high-quality pre-k and the lifelong advantages it offers.

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You Need Quality Teachers to Have Quality Pre-k

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, a great time to recognize the critical role teachers have in student success – a role that begins in a child’s earliest years.

The Pre-K for PA campaign is working to ensure high-quality pre-k is available to every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania. A core ingredient of high-quality pre-k programs is degreed teachers with early childhood training. (In Pennsylvania, such programs include Pre-K Counts, Head Start, private academic nursery schools, STAR 3 and 4 child care programs and pre-k operated by public schools.)

Fortunately, all publicly funded pre-k programs in Pennsylvania require teachers to have college degrees and early childhood training. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed an additional $120 million in pre-k funding for fiscal 2015-16 that would allow about 14,000 more young learners to benefit from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. This investment would increase access from 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds to about 1 in 4. It’s a big step in the right direction, but Pennsylvania will need multiple years of increased investments to reach the goal of making high-quality pre-k universally accessible.

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Keeping A Focus on Foster Care

In Pennsylvania, there are about 14,000 children and youth in foster care on any given day. May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge those who do so much to help these children and youth find permanent, safe and nurturing homes.

Our recent State of Child Welfare report found that Pennsylvania’s foster care population has begun increasing in recent years, an increase likely fueled at least in part by an increased awareness of child abuse and neglect. As new child protection laws take effect and more children are removed from unsafe or unhealthy environments, the need for foster care is likely to keep growing.

Of course, saving a child from an unsafe or abusive environment is only half the challenge. We also need to do our best to make sure each child ends up in a safe, supportive “forever family.” And that means we must pay close attention to our foster care system to ensure it has the resources needed to adequately and appropriately help every child it serves.

The State of Child Welfare report noted two areas where improvements can be made:

  • Children in foster care who have a court-ordered goal of a permanent living arrangement sometimes never reach that goal. Many age out of the foster care system between ages 18 and 21 without ever finding a permanent family upon which they can rely. Looking ahead, Pennsylvania needs to strengthen its efforts to ensure foster care is a pathway to finding a “forever family” for every child.
  • State policymakers should examine ways to better provide educational stability to children and youth in foster care, who often face school challenges due to foster care placements. Education interruptions and school changes make it hard for many of these children to succeed academically.

And to all the foster parents, supportive family members, policymakers, child welfare professionals, volunteers and others who do so much to help children and youth in Pennsylvania’s foster care system, we thank you for your invaluable efforts.

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REMINDER: Early Childhood Action Day is May 12

Early learning advocates from across Pennsylvania will converge on the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 12, for the annual Early Childhood Action Day. If you haven’t already registered to attend, there’s still time.

On action day, scores of early learning professionals, parents, advocates and supporters make the rounds at the Capitol to deliver the message to state legislators that high-quality early childhood education must be a priority issue. Attendants will visit one-on-one with state legislators and host an afternoon rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

If you are unable to attend in person, you can still speak up for early learning investments by taking part in Virtual Action Day.

Whether you join us in person or online, please sign up and speak up for the need to invest in early learning!

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Happy Kindergarten Day

It’s been roughly two centuries since German educator Friedrich Fröbel pioneered the idea that young children were like plants in a garden who would thrive with the proper mental and emotional nurturing. Thus was born the idea of “kindergarten.” Fröbel was born on this date in 1782, so April 21 is now designated as “Kindergarten Day” in his honor.

Since Fröbel’s time, we’ve come to understand how much a child’s brain develops in the critical years before kindergarten. Decades of research has shown that high-quality pre-kindergarten prepares young learners for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Perhaps that’s why a majority of Pennsylvania voters across party lines strongly support increasing the availability of pre-k. Yet only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. We can do better for our kids and our commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing investments in high-quality pre-k by $120 million in fiscal 2015-16, including an additional $100 million for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and a $20 million funding increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP). These are strong steps toward ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-k.

You can help ensure these investments happen by joining us in the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign and letting your elected leaders know you want smart, effective investments to help ensure every child arrives in kindergarten with the strongest possible foundation to learn for a lifetime.

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Preventing Child Abuse Through Home Visiting

With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s fitting that President Obama signed legislation on April 16 to extend federal funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for two more years.

What does MIECHV have to do with child abuse prevention?

There are sometimes adverse issues in a child’s home - issues like alcohol or drug problems, financial distress, unmet mental health needs and other factors - that can contribute to abuse and neglect. Evidence-based home visitation services (like those funded through MIECHV) have proven to be an effective means of addressing risk factors like these, lessening the risk of child maltreatment.

The federal funding given to Pennsylvania through MIECHV has allowed the commonwealth to provide evidence-based home visiting services to about 2,300 children a year who would not have been served otherwise. The legislation signed by the president this week provides about $400 million in MIECHV funding to the states for each of the next two fiscal years (Pennsylvania received $13.7 million in MIECHV funds in fiscal 2014-15). Without the legislation, MIECHV funding would have ended this year.

We’re pleased to note that every member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation voted for this important legislation, and they deserve thanks for their support of MIECHV. Many of you also deserve thanks for joining us in signing a letter earlier this year urging Pennsylvania’s federal lawmakers to support MIECHV funding.

Working together, we got it done – and Pennsylvania’s children are better off because of our collective efforts.

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CHIP Wins in Harrisburg, Washington

It’s been a good week for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), with legislative victories in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., that will help keep about 150,000 Pennsylvania kids insured.

Last night, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that extends federal CHIP funding for another two years, through September 2017. The measure, which previously passed the U.S. House, now awaits the president’s signature. (UPDATE: President Obama signed this measure into law on April 16.) Pennsylvania’s two senators – Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and Republican Pat Toomey – both voted for the measure, as did the commonwealth’s entire House delegation.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children would have preferred to see CHIP funding extended for four years, a time frame that would align with CHIP reauthorization deadline of September 2019. But we are still pleased to see federal lawmakers have at least averted a potential short-term funding crisis that could have jeopardized CHIP coverage.

At the state level, the Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee earlier this week unanimously approved a bill (House Bill 857) that reauthorizes Pennsylvania CHIP through Dec. 31, 2017. The commonwealth’s CHIP is currently set to expire at the end of 2015 if not reauthorized, and we are hopeful this legislation will quickly make its way to the governor’s desk.

CHIP has received strong, bipartisan support from Pennsylvania’s elected leaders since it was launched more than two decades ago – support that was evident in this week’s votes. We thank all of those who voted to keep CHIP going to help keep Pennsylvania’s kids insured.

You can learn more about CHIP in PA at our website.

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Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children gratefully acknowledges the support of the following funders:

The Hershey Company

Highmark Blue Shield

The PNC Financial Services Group

 

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