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

What's Behind the Numbers on Child Maltreatment?

National data from our partners at the Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT project shows the proportion of young children experiencing maltreatment has grown by 11 percent between 2004 and 2012. In 2012 alone, nine children out of every 1,000 across the country were confirmed victims of maltreatment. This translates to more than 600,000 children nationwide – 40 percent of whom are under age 5.

So how does Pennsylvania fare in this national perspective? The commonwealth actually has seen a slight decline in the proportion of children under age 5 experiencing maltreatment over the last few years. These young children make up about 18 percent of all children in Pennsylvania who experienced maltreatment in 2012, versus 40 percent nationwide.

This variation likely has something to do with how Pennsylvania has defined child abuse. Our definition has been less stringent than many other states, so what constituted maltreatment in other states might not have been classified as maltreatment here. But with new child protection laws going into effect in Pennsylvania, these data trends may change. Some of the ways Pennsylvania strengthened its definition of child abuse are particularly focused on protecting very young children from abuse. For example, forcefully shaking, slapping or striking a child under the age of one will now constitute child abuse (beginning in December 2014).

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Preparing Kids for Success

With just 10 weeks to go until Election Day, the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign continues to share and highlight personal stories from real people – mothers, fathers, educators and community members – highlighting the connection between high-quality pre-k and school readiness.

This week, we share a testimonial from Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, on the benefits high-quality early learning opportunities have on later learning:

“In learning, as in life, preparation makes a big difference. And high-quality pre-k is one of the best ways we can prepare our children for academic success.

“There is overwhelming evidence that kids who benefit from quality pre-k head to kindergarten with stronger literacy, language and math skills, making them less likely to need costly remedial or special education services later on. Because they benefitted from such a solid foundation for learning, these children are more likely to succeed academically, graduate and be prepared for whatever challenges they’ll take on after high school. That not only benefits the student, it benefits every Pennsylvanian.

“Unfortunately, too many young learners will be heading to kindergarten this fall not fully prepared because they missed out on high-quality pre-k. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators supports the goals of the Pre-K for PA campaign because our school leaders know first-hand how high-quality pre-k can help drive student achievement in later years. We recognize the commonwealth needs to do more to make this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity available to every 3- and 4-year-old.”

Despite the proven benefits of high-quality pre-k, too many kids are missing out on it due to a lack of access to quality programs. You can help us turn this around by lending your voice to the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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Take Some Time to #MeetTheKids

If you’re familiar with Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, or SWAN, you might recall a powerful video campaign last year called “Meet the Kids.”

The campaign featured real kids – not actors – who were in foster care. They spoke from the heart about their experiences, hopes and expectations as they awaited their “forever families.” As a result of the campaign, six of the 12 kids featured in the “Meet the Kids” debut are among the many Pennsylvania foster youth who have been matched with permanent families in the past year.

We’re happy to share the news that “Meet the Kids” is back for a second year, and you can hear the unscripted, first-person stories of 12 more young people in the foster care system. We hope you’ll take the time to watch these moving videos on YouTube and share them on social media using the hashtag #MeetTheKids.

And if you’re interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent (or know someone who is) visit the SWAN website at adoptpakids.org or call 1-800-585-SWAN.

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‘We’ll Help Teach Her’

Summer is winding down and more kids are heading back to school with each passing day. It’s a perfect time to look at how high-quality pre-k can prepare young learners for success as they enter kindergarten.

This week, we share a story from Lorena Afanador, an early childhood educator at Three Stages Daycare in Mount Pocono, Monroe County:

“Last year, I had a young girl in my class who was born in the United States, but her parents are Asian and spoke only Chinese at home. Her mother thought it would be a good idea for her to socialize and interact with other children, so she enrolled her in my preschool classroom.

“When she first arrived, she was very shy and couldn’t understand the other children, who spoke English. She cried for her mother, didn’t mingle or play with the other kids and just stood in the corner with her stuffed animal. I told the other children that we have a new friend learning how to speak our language – and that is when one of my students suggested doing a poster of words and pictures like dog, cat, bird and pizza. ‘We’ll help teach her,’ they told me.

“I gathered magazines, scissors, and glue sticks, and they cut out pictures and glued it onto the poster to make a word chart. They showed her the pictures, said the words and pointed to the objects. I then asked her parents to make a word chart in Chinese – they included 20 words, like hello, good-bye, boy and girl – and they came in to demonstrate how to pronounce each word. The kids loved learning Chinese, and were so excited to learn three languages at once.

“Within three weeks, she started saying words in English to the other children in the class, and even began speaking in sentences. She will be going to kindergarten this September.”

There are many stories like this unfolding every year in pre-k programs across Pennsylvania. The problem is, too many kids are missing out on the benefits of high-quality pre-k due to a lack of access that stems from a lack of state investments. You can help us turn this around by lending your voice to the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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‘She became a voracious reader’

Election Day in Pennsylvania is 12 weeks from today. As we count down the days to Nov. 4, the Pre-K for PA campaign continues to highlight personal stories from across Pennsylvania about the need for all children to have access to high-quality pre-k - stories every candidate for state office this fall should hear.

This is Lailah’s story, told through the voice of her mother, Sonja Claxton, of West Philadelphia:

“I graduated in 2008, during the Great Recession, and was expecting my first child two months later. Each night, I put my baby, Lailah, to bed and stayed up for hours looking for work. I had no job prospects and decided instead to focus on caring for my newborn. We spent most of our days between the park and the library. She got her first library card at 6 months old, and almost every day we stopped in for new books. ... But there were only so many trips to the library one could take. After spending a year at home with me, I recognized my daughter needed something more – to socialize with other children. I enrolled her in daycare, only to hear teachers screaming at children to go to the potty and watch children propped in front of the TV. 

“I stumbled upon the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Early Head Start program, a home visitation program for low-income parents of children ages 0-3. During our time at the Early Head Start program, Lailah and I participated in socialization activities for families and children – including messy activities with paper and glue, sing-alongs and story time. 

“I was soon employed but didn't make enough to cover the cost of full-time pre-k. My counselors at Early Head Start encouraged me to apply for the federal Head Start program as well as Bright Futures and Pre-K Counts. … I received an email in the summer of 2011 that Lailah had been accepted into the Pre-K Counts classroom at Parent Infant Center – an email I still have to this day.  

“She was quiet and timid at the time, but I would soon find pictures of her in the PIC newsletter engaged in activities. She became a voracious reader. On weekends, she would gather our family together for circle time to share and explain the pages of her favorite books. She learned about countries around the world, how to manage her emotions and even how to count in Mandarin. More than anything else, she and I were relieved. She was free to explore, examine and question the world around her, and I was able to go back to work with ease knowing that she was getting the education and care she needed. 

“When she graduated kindergarten, she was comfortable with the course work, passionate about being in the classroom and open to learning more. In just a few weeks, Lailah will enter the first grade – I could not be more proud or excited to see my daughter blossom – thanks in large part to high-quality pre-k and the power of readying.”

While there are many success stories just like Lailah’s, there also are nearly a quarter of a million 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania who are missing out on the opportunity publicly funded, high-quality pre-k provides. We can reach those children with stronger state investments in high-quality pre-k.

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Student Success and PA’s New K-12 Budget

While Pennsylvania’s new state budget for fiscal 2014-15 does not include any new funding for the basic education subsidy (the primary funding stream for school districts), it does provide an additional $125 million in K-12 funding. This includes a $20 million increase in special education funding, $100 million for a new “Ready to Learn” block grant, and a $4.6 million increase in the assessment line item, which supports continued costs for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), Keystone Exams and other supports for schools and teachers. 

Assessments that are aligned to the state’s academic standards, such as the PSSAs for students in grades 3-8 and Keystone Exams for high school students, are an important accountability tool. They give students, parents, educators and taxpayers the assurance that our investments in public education are paying off and students are on a pathway to graduate from high school college and career ready.

These tests measure how well students are achieving to the standards and tell us if students know what they are supposed to know in given grade levels and subject areas - and if they can demonstrate that knowledge. The tests also help students learn and schools improve in a number of other ways, such as identifying students who may be struggling, helping teachers improve their classroom teaching, and measuring how well schools have aligned their curriculum and instruction to the academic standards, to name a few.

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A (Pre-k) Tale of Two Dads

We are less than three months away from Election Day – a small window of time to make high-quality pre-k a big issue in the elections for governor and state legislature. As we count down the days to Nov. 4, the Pre-K for PA campaign is continuing to highlight stories from parents, grandparents, caregivers, educators and community members who have personal stories that reflect the need for all children to have the opportunity to enter school ready to succeed.

This week, the campaign shares the “Tale of Two Dads”: Kevin Toogood from West Chester and Walter Cohen from Allegheny County.

Kevin’s story illustrates the decision that so many parents are forced to make: forgo pre-k, and the valuable early learning opportunities associated with it, because it is just too costly.

According to Kevin: “My son is now 6 years old and in kindergarten. I regret that we did not have the opportunity to send him to pre-k, because it was just too expensive for our family to afford. As a kindergartner, he has had problems socializing with his peers and getting used to a regular classroom routine. I strongly believe that he missed out on valuable learning and growing opportunities that so many kids gain from pre-k. We also have a 1-year-old daughter. I sincerely hope that once she is ready for school, she doesn’t suffer from the same problems that my son struggles with.”

Walter’s story is reflective of so many families struggling to make ends meet, while striving to provide the best footing for their young children – and the sacrifices they must make in order to do so.

According to Walter: It was very difficult to find an affordable pre-school for my daughter. There are very few high-quality, public pre-schools available in Pittsburgh, so we had to put her in a private pre-school, which costs us $500 per month. Although we did get financial aid, it has been a struggle to pay this amount every month. Fortunately, it is a NAEYC-accredited school and we all love it. My daughter loves going to school.”

Only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds has access to public funded, high-quality pre-k, putting it out of reach for many families. The result is missed learning opportunities that ultimately benefit every Pennsylvanian. We can change this, but only if we make high-quality pre-k a priority issue this fall. Help us do that by lending your voice to the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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“Adverse Childhood Experiences” Among PA Kids

A new report came out today examining the prevalence of “adverse childhood experiences” (or ACEs) across the country. It found Pennsylvania is not unlike many other states when it comes to the types of ACEs impacting children.

So what exactly are “adverse childhood experiences” and why do they matter?

They are events in the life of a child that could have caused them trauma, and ultimately impact their long-term health and well-being. Research has linked the number of ACEs children experience to obesity, medical conditions and even life expectancy.

These are the leading ACEs among Pennsylvania children ages 0-17:

ACE

Prevalence (percentage of children)

Economic hardship

25%

Divorce

19%

Mental illness

10%

Violence

10%

Alcohol

10%

Domestic violence

8%

Key findings in the report include:

  • Just under half (46 percent) of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE.
  • Economic hardship is the most common ACE reported nationally and in almost all states, followed by divorce or separation of a parent or guardian.
  • The prevalence of ACEs increases with a child’s age, except for economic hardship, which was reported about equally for children of all ages – a dynamic that reflects high levels of poverty among young families.
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs, exposure to neighborhood violence, and the occurrence of mental illness are among the most commonly reported ACEs in every state.

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100 Days, 100 Stories

This week began with an important milestone: July 27 marked 100 days until the Nov. 4 election in which Pennsylvanians will cast votes for governor and state legislators.

Throughout these final 100 days, the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign will be sharing 100 stories from Pennsylvania parents, educators, businesspeople, law enforcement professionals, community leaders and others who know firsthand the importance of high-quality pre-k. All of these voices convey a common message: Pennsylvania leaders need to make investing in pre-k a priority so we can make sure every 3- and 4-year-old has access to a high-quality pre-k program.

Here’s one such story, from a West Chester mom named Julia:

“Before entering kindergarten, my son was in a preschool setting only a handful of times. When he turned 4, we once paid for two months of preschool – only two half-days a week – for around $500 a month. We really liked the pre-school, but were unfortunately forced to withdraw because it was just too expensive. … I regret that he was not able to benefit from the rich experiences and opportunities for socialization and learning that go hand-in-hand with the preschool years.”

 

As we head toward Election Day, you can read other stories about the need for high-quality pre-k on the Pre-K for PA website. And you can share your own story on social media using the hashtag #100Days100Stories.

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Stay on top of the latest news affecting Pennsylvania's children by following Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children via social media:

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Medicaid Helps Keep Foster Youth Healthy

It’s common knowledge that children in foster care typically face obstacles other kids might never have to deal with, but it might surprise you to realize how many of those challenges relate to health care.

The fact is, about 80 percent of children in foster care have a chronic medical condition and 25 percent have three or more chronic health problems. These chronic conditions run the gamut from asthma to growth failure to neurological problems. And for many of these foster youth, Medicaid is a critical means of ensuring they have access to the essential health care and supportive services they need deal with these chronic conditions and help ensure their long-term success as they head into adulthood.

The importance of Medicaid in keeping foster youth healthy is a key reason Medicaid coverage remains available for former foster youth up to age 26 who had Medicaid coverage before they “aged out” of foster care.

When we talk about ways we can better ensure foster youth have the necessary resources to overcome the challenges they face, Medicaid needs to always be a key part of that discussion.

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