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

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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Child Protection Changes Are Worth It

The House Children and Youth Committee held an informational hearing today to discuss the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new Child Protective Services Law. Not surprisingly, as with any big change in law, policymakers are now hearing some concerns over the impact of certain requirements - concerns being voiced primarily by organizations with employees or volunteers who are responsible for the welfare of or have direct contact with children.

Under Pennsylvania’s new child protection laws, certain volunteers must now submit child abuse and criminal background clearances every three years, including an FBI clearance if the volunteer lived outside the commonwealth within the past 10 years. The routine submission of clearances now also applies to certain employees in child-serving fields, such as teachers. A bottom line concern about these clearances is cost. Combined, the three types of clearances cost approximately $47.50. But if a volunteer has been living in Pennsylvania, the clearances cost only about $20.

Some argue these costs will result in fewer individuals volunteering. The Department of Human Services has reviewed volunteer clearance data over the last few years to investigate concerns about a dwindling number of volunteers. The department found that in 2013 - before the new requirements took effect - more than 60,000 volunteer clearances were processed. And there has been a steady increase in the number of volunteer clearances being processed over time. This is because many volunteer organizations already instituted their own policies requiring clearance checks. This seems to indicate the new state requirements are merely catching up to existing policies organizations already have to ensure the safety of our children.

Changes often bring challenges, but changes that better protect Pennsylvania’s nearly 2.8 million children from abuse are well worth the relatively minor challenges some have raised.

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Medicaid Expansion Can Help Cover More Kids

Gov. Tom Wolf today announced Pennsylvania will pursue Medicaid expansion as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. This is great news for Pennsylvania's children and families because such an expansion will help streamline and simplify access to health care coverage for more uninsured adults, many of whom are parents.

There are an estimated 131,000 uninsured parents in Pennsylvania, and research shows that parents who are insured are more likely to have their children insured. Expanding Medicaid to more adults can help achieve the goal of making sure every documented child in Pennsylvania is insured – a goal that has longstanding, bipartisan support among state lawmakers and many governors over the last two decades.

When parents who are struggling with their own health care needs don't get the appropriate treatment they need, it makes them less able to focus their time and attention on raising their children. The elimination of premiums, the restoration of benefits and the streamlining of enrollment processes that Medicaid expansion achieves will help reach our goal of providing affordable, quality health care coverage to every Pennsylvania family.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children looks forward to working with the Wolf administration to make Medicaid expansion happen as quickly as possible. It's good for kids and good for the commonwealth.

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How Economic Struggles Impact Children’s Health

The Great Recession might be over, but its ripple effects continue to impact children in health care and many other ways, according to a new report issued by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus and PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The report, The Effect of the Great Recession on Child Well-Being, was released on Feb. 3 in conjunction with a Congressional briefing that featured remarks from PPC Health Policy Director George Hoover.

Hoover discussed how the lack of health insurance can have a detrimental “snowball effect” on a child’s life and explained how Pennsylvania’s CHIP and Medicaid programs help to keep our commonwealth’s children healthy during turbulent economic times. These programs can be critical for children and families because:

  • When parents lose their jobs, employer-based coverage is no longer available and quite often COBRA or private coverage becomes unaffordable.
  • Children who have insurance generally have better school attendance, meaning they are likely to do better in school. In the long-term, this is better for the child, the family and our economy.
  • Children who lack insurance are less likely to see a doctor and get the preventive care they need, which can lead to delayed diagnoses and result in more severe medical problems and higher treatment costs.

Unfortunately, our health care coverage structure for kids is at risk unless Congress acts to extend federal funding for CHIP. While CHIP is authorized through Sept. 30, 2019, it is only funded through Sept. 30, 2015. If Congress does not authorize more funding by Sept. 30, about 147,000 children currently receiving coverage through CHIP stand to lose that coverage.

To learn more about the urgent necessity of extending CHIP funding, visit papartnerships.org/chip.

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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’ Visits the PA Capitol

Pre-K for PA supporters hit the halls of the state Capitol this week to deliver education kits to members of the General Assembly so they know the many benefits of expanding access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.

Among the campaign supporters making legislative visits was Patricia Hunter, executive director of Spring Garden Children’s Center in Easton, Northampton County. 

“I joined the Pre-K for PA campaign because I believe that when parents raise their voice together, Harrisburg listens,” Hunter said. “As an early childhood educator, it breaks my heart that not all young learners get the opportunity to enter kindergarten with an equal and solid foundation.

“I am encouraged by Gov. Tom Wolf’s campaign promise to expand access to high-quality early education and hope that the legislature will work with him to accomplish this laudable goal,” she said.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children shares that hope. That’s why we decided to be a founding partner in the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign, as well as the Early Learning PA campaign,  which is advocating for a comprehensive early childhood system that ensures that Pennsylvania's children, particularly its most vulnerable, have access to the education and support they need to enter school ready to learn.

As a new legislative session gets underway and we await Gov. Wolf’s first budget address in early March, we hope you’ll join us in pushing for expanded opportunities for all young learners.

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The Value of Child Abuse Clearances

There has been some recent pushback about Pennsylvania’s new Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) clearance requirements, particularly by volunteer organizations and universities. Concerns have arisen over the costs of submitting these clearances, but shouldn’t our primary concern be the costs of not submitting them?

Every child who experiences abuse could suffer from the aftermath for a lifetime, and these background checks serve to protect Pennsylvania’s nearly 2.8 million children. And let’s not forget that large public, private and faith-based institutions have faced great costs as recent abuse scandals have ripped through their communities – costs that far outweigh a $10 child abuse clearance or even the $27.50 to complete an FBI background check.

With our children at the forefront of their minds, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly intentionally broadened clearance requirements by both requiring additional individuals to submit them and to do so on a routine basis. There have been far too many instances of someone committing child abuse in one jurisdiction, then later found to be working or volunteering with kids somewhere else.

These common-sense clearance requirements are in direct response to these scenarios and will help put a stop to them.  

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Sen. Browne Receives ‘Be Someone for Kids’ Award

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children this week bestowed our first-ever “Be Someone for Kids” award to Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) in recognition of his hard work over the years to improve public policies and increase state investments that benefit the commonwealth’s children.

During his legislative career, Sen. Browne has shown a strong concern for the well-being of Pennsylvania’s children, as well as a keen understanding of how public policy can impact their lives.

Among his notable work for kids:

  • He has been a long-time advocate for early learning programs, beginning with The Ounce of Prevention Act in 1999, which established Pennsylvania’s first home-visitation law to support at-risk families and their newborn children.
  • As a member of Senate leadership, he has been a vocal budget negotiator to speak up for early learning investments.
  • Sen. Browne helped establish and co-chairs the Early Childhood Education Caucus, a bipartisan and bicameral caucus with more than 120 members created to support high-quality early childhood care and education programs.
  • He helped write the law that created the Basic Education Funding Commission and currently co-chairs the commission, which is examining the commonwealth’s public school funding system.
  • He led efforts to enact a law that created the Special Education Funding Commission, which he also co-chaired. Some of the commission’s recommendations for a new funding formula were signed into law as part of the 2013-14 Fiscal Code, and this new formula was used to distribute the first increase in special education funding since 2008-09.

PPC launched the “Be Someone for Kids” award this year as a way to honor those who have made extraordinary efforts to help Pennsylvania’s nearly 2.8 million children.

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