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

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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Pre-K for PA Celebrates ‘Week of the Young Child’

Supporters of the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign* are marking the Week of the Young Child by hitting the halls of the Capitol to urge stronger state investments in high-quality pre-k. 

Week of the Young Child is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families. To kick off the week, parents and early learning educators who are part of the Pre-K for PA “Capitol Caravan” visited the Capitol to make the case for pre-k investments.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing investments in high-quality pre-k by $120 million in fiscal 2015-16, calling for an additional $100 million for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and a $20 million funding increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP).

These investments are sorely needed if Pennsylvania wants to fully tap into the broad fiscal, education and social returns on investment that high-quality pre-k provides. Currently, only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. We can – and should – do more to ensure all young learners have the opportunity to benefit from it.

Can’t visit Harrisburg to make the case for pre-k in person? That’s OK, there are still several ways you can make your voice heard. Visit the Pre-K for PA “Minute to Win It” page and see how you can support this effort.

* Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is a proud founding member of the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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Pennsylvania’s ‘Devastatingly Large’ Problem

A new analysis of education funding across the country confirms what many in Pennsylvania already know: When it comes to equitable funding of our public schools, the Keystone State comes up short – way short.

In fact, Pennsylvania has one of the worst education funding gaps in the nation, according to a new report by The Education Trust, an independent national education policy organization. The report found:

  • Pennsylvania has the nation’s third largest funding gap between high-poverty and low-poverty school districts when funding is not adjusted for the needs of low-income students (only Illinois and New York fared worse).
  • When funding is adjusted for the additional needs of low-income students, Pennsylvania falls further in the rankings to having the second largest funding gap (behind only Illinois).
  • Pennsylvania’s state-level share of school funding tied for fourth lowest in the nation.

Overall, the report called education funding inequities across the nation “devastatingly large,” and cited Pennsylvania’s as among the worst.

These findings underscore the urgent need for the commonwealth to find a better way to fund our public schools. Part of the solution needs to be a sustainable, predictable and student-driven formula for funding basic education. (Right now, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that lacks a predictable formula for basic education funding.)

If you agree that Pennsylvania can and should do better, sign up for email updates from the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. This statewide, nonpartisan campaign was launched last fall (with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children as a founding member) to help ensure every public school student - regardless of zip code - has the resources necessary to succeed in school and beyond.

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A Few Seconds That Could Save a Child

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so we’re going to begin the month by asking you to take a few seconds to do one simple thing …

Put this number into your phone contacts: 1-800-932-0313.

It’s a toll-free number for ChildLine, Pennsylvania’s child abuse hotline. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reports can be made anonymously.

Once the ChildLine number is in your phone directory, pass the number along to friends, family and colleagues who might not have it in their phones. Remind them that anyone can (and should) report suspected child abuse or neglect.

It’s our collectively responsibility to help keep all children safe from harm.

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Better Child Protection Laws And Foster Care Challenges

Our latest State of Child Welfare report, out today, underscores how Pennsylvania’s much-improved child protection laws are leading to an increased use of foster care as more abuse and neglect is reported and more children are removed from unsafe or unhealthy environments.

In fact, the number of children entering foster care in Pennsylvania has exceeded the number exiting foster care for the last two years in a row, reversing a long-term trend of a decline in the overall foster care population.

While it’s laudable that Pennsylvania has made clear progress in better protecting children, the commonwealth now faces the challenge of making sure the children who have been removed from harmful environments have the services and support they need to thrive. Our foster care system is doing a lot of things right, but there’s also room for improvement.

The State of Child Welfare report notes 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.

Saving a child from an unsafe or abusive environment is only half the battle. Looking ahead, we also need to do our best to make sure that child ends up in a safe, loving and permanent family and has the support needed to succeed in school and life.

The 2015 State of Child Welfare report, along with county-level child welfare statistics, can be found at porchlightproject.org.

 

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Working Toward a Forever Family for Every Child

When Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children launched our public policy work in child welfare, we decided to name the initiative The Porch Light Project: Forever Family for Every Child.

The vision behind the name is to ensure every child in foster care becomes connected to a permanent family - an outcome driven by a mission of advancing improved public policy. A home where a welcoming porch light is always left on symbolizes a place of belonging and a family that provides support for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, there are many children and youth in foster care today who are not connected to a permanent family. We know foster care is not a good substitute for family, and while it’s necessary under certain circumstances, it should always be temporary. We also know for many youth in foster care, their experience of being parented by public and private agencies has not been temporary, and research shows the negative outcomes many of them will experience if they “age out” of foster care without a family upon which they can rely.

So what can be done? For starters we need the entire child welfare system to never give up on its work to ensure kids “stay home, go home or find a home.”

Every child and youth in foster care has a court-ordered goal or outcome that the child welfare agency is responsible for working toward. Typically, the goal is for children in foster care to “go home.” But sometimes this can’t happen and an alternative goal is established. A challenge for too many youth in foster care is that sometimes they have a court-ordered goal that doesn’t help them “find a home.” This goal of “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement” (APPLA) is considered the least desirable court-ordered goal, and 80 percent of children and youth who have this goal when they leave foster care will not have been connected to a family.

Last year, the federal government decided to greatly restrict the ability of states to use APPLA. Now Pennsylvania must decide how it wants to implement this federal requirement, which gives the commonwealth a prime opportunity to advance the vision of a forever family for every child.

We’ll explore this opportunity in more depth on March 31, when we issue our latest State of Child Welfare report.

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Expanding the Child Care Tax Credit

Last month, we issued a new School Readiness report that found only 7.5 percent – or less than 1 in 13 – of Pennsylvania children age 0-4 who are in need of child care benefit from high-quality care. In many cases, these young learners cannot benefit from high-quality child care because their working parents cannot afford it.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) took a step toward making child care more affordable by introducing legislation to expand the federal child care tax credit.

In announcing his plan, Sen. Casey cited a Pew study of Census Bureau data that found average weekly child care expenses (measured in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars) rose from $87 in 1985 to $148 in 2013 - an increase of more than 70 percent. Other data demonstrates that the cost of child care for two children can exceed housing costs for some families in Pennsylvania.

But making child care more affordable benefits more than just those young learners and their families. High-quality child care has a ripple effect that ultimately benefits every Pennsylvania taxpayer and bolsters the commonwealth’s competitiveness in a global economy.

When we make child care more affordable, it gives parents more reliable options for ensuring their kids are safe and cared for during the work day. Workers and employers appreciate quality child care because it promotes peace of mind that helps employees focus on their work, making them more reliable and productive.

The bottom line: Sen. Casey’s proposal can help many more families in Pennsylvania afford the high-quality child care that will help their children grow and develop to their full potential and help make Pennsylvania a stronger economic competitor.

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Statewide Campaign Proposes Better Way to Fund Our Schools

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (of which PA Partnerships for Children is a proud founding member) today proposed a student-driven funding formula for basic education that can help boost student outcomes in all parts of the state by helping to close funding shortfalls, improve equity, and ensure accountability and efficiency.

Pennsylvania is in urgent need of such a formula, in part because we are among only three states that lack a predictable funding formula for basic education. The lack of a formula leaves us with no strategic way to drive resources to where they are needed most to help students.

The formula proposed today strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically. It is driven by several critical student factors, such as the number of students in poverty and the number learning English; and several school district factors, including local tax effort, school district size and charter enrollment.

With Gov. Tom Wolf set to unveil his first-ever state budget plan on March 3, the campaign is hopeful its proposed funding formula will help improve Pennsylvania’s school funding vision for fiscal 2015-16 and beyond.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding was launched last year to ensure Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding public education. It is an unprecedented coalition of nearly 50 groups representing educators, faith-based organizations, children’s advocates, business leaders, labor, charter schools, traditional public schools and representatives from rural, urban and growing school districts.

You can learn more by visiting the campaign’s website at www.fairfundingpa.org.

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Pennsylvania’s Youngest Learners Have Waited Long Enough

The call for stronger investments in high-quality early learning has grown substantially over the years. Unfortunately, the level of Pennsylvania’s financial support for these programs hasn’t kept pace.

Our latest “School Readiness” report, issued earlier today, notes the commonwealth’s investments in early learning programs has been relatively stagnant despite growing support for high-quality early learning programs among policymakers, business leaders, voters, educators and many others. Consider:

  • Just 18.9 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds - or only 1 in 6 children - have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-k programs.
  • Among children age 0-4 who are in need of child care, only 7.5 percent - or less than 1 in 13 - benefit from high-quality care.
  • About 319,000 Pennsylvania children under age 5 - nearly half of this young population - live in low-income households. Greater access to child care subsidy is critical to ensure parents in these struggling households are able to work and their children are safe and well cared for while they work.

We can do better. In fact, if Pennsylvania is truly committed to creating a competitive, world-class workforce and draw jobs and families in the years ahead, we have to do better.

Two weeks from today, Gov. Tom Wolf will make his first-ever state budget address, marking the start of a months-long season of budget negotiations among state leaders where they will debate the commonwealth’s spending priorities.

We need to make sure high-quality early learning programs are a critical part of that discussion – and investments in these programs need to start matching the supportive rhetoric. You can help in this effort by letting your elected officials know you want to see stronger investments in high-quality early learning.

As our “School Readiness” report notes: “Years of deferred investments in proven early learning programs have added up to missed opportunities for many children – a trend we can reverse if we have the will to make smart choices for future generations and move beyond talk to legitimate action.”

Let’s start reversing that trend now. Pennsylvania’s youngest learners have waited long enough.

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Comments from readers of Blogging4Children do not necessarily represent the views of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.