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

Rep. Watson Receives ‘Be Someone for Kids’ Award

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children today honored Rep. Katharine Watson (R-Bucks) with our annual “Be Someone for Kids” award in recognition of her work to improve public policies that benefit the commonwealth’s children.

As chair of the House Children and Youth Committee, Watson played a critical role in recent years in helping to enact numerous laws to better protect kids from abuse and neglect.

PPC worked closely with Rep. Watson over the past several legislative sessions on comprehensive changes to the state’s Child Protective Services Law. Her efforts helped lead to the enactment of two dozen pieces of legislation aimed at better protecting children, including measures that broaden the threshold of what defines child abuse and make comprehensive changes to the list of individuals mandated to report child abuse and obtain clearances for employment or volunteer duties.

Rep. Watson also sponsored legislation (Act 94 of 2015) that limits the use of one of the least desirable options for finding a permanent home for a foster youth. The option, known as Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), is often used by the courts when better options - such as family reunification, adoption, kinship care or legal guardianship - have been ruled out. APPLA, however, is a permanency goal that often results in long-term foster care instead of a permanent home.

PPC launched the “Be Someone for Kids” award in 2015 as a way to honor those who have made extraordinary efforts to help Pennsylvania’s nearly 2.8 million children. This year’s award was given to Rep. Watson by Benso during a ceremony at the state Capitol attended by several of her legislative colleagues, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and children’s advocates.

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Students in Foster Care Deserve School Stability

Nearly 23,000 Pennsylvania children and youth were placed in foster care during 2015. These children and youth rely on county child welfare agencies, the courts, schools and their temporary caregivers to ensure their educational and daily needs are addressed while they are living away from their homes and families.

For these young people, academic achievement can be a positive balance to the events that led to their foster care placement – and school success begins with school stability. While Pennsylvania lacks reliable educational data on our children in foster care, national data shows that half to three-quarters of children change schools when entering foster care, a third of these children change schools five or more times, and only half complete high school by age 18. The high rate of school mobility amongst foster children and youth negatively impacts their academic success, creates challenges to participation in extracurricular activities and disrupts friendships with other students and school faculty.

In Pennsylvania, several pieces of legislation have been introduced, all with the intention of reducing the educational disruption that plagues many students in foster care. Just this week, HB 1808 and HB 1809 were filed in the House, while in the Senate, SB 966 was filed earlier this session. While additional legislation is expected to be filed, the legislation that has been introduced thus far makes the statutory reforms necessary to keep foster children and youth in their original school whenever possible and inform school districts and county child welfare agencies of their responsibilities to transport children. The legislation also specifies the requirements for county child welfare agencies and school districts to coordinate their efforts to ensure timely enrollment and transfer of student records when the court makes a best-interest determination for the student to transfer to a new school. School districts, county child welfare agencies and the courts all play a role in the lives of foster children and youth, so it is imperative that any school stability legislation addresses the roles of all three and promotes collaboration amongst them to better achieve school stability.

PPC applauds the General Assembly’s recognition of this challenge facing foster children and youth and looks forward to working with them and other stakeholders through the next few months to advance legislation that helps ensure school stability and smooth transitions for school placements for the students that do require a change of school.

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The Case for Pre-k in PA

Across Pennsylvania, there are more than 175,000 3- and 4-year-olds who are at risk of educational failure, yet 70 percent of these at-risk young learners – more than 120,000 children statewide – had no access to publicly funded pre-k last year.

This lack of access is especially troubling given high-quality pre-k can have the greatest benefits for at-risk children in terms of preparing them for academic success.

The good news is we know how to fix this problem. As part of our work with the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign, we just released a new report – “The Case for Pre-k in PA” – that outlines a multi-year investment strategy Pennsylvania can implement to provide high-quality pre-k to most at-risk children, as well as some middle-income children.

Our report finds that if Pennsylvania were to increase state funding for high-quality pre-k gradually over this fiscal year and the following three years, we could make high-quality pre-k available to more than 40 percent of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds, compared to fewer than 20 percent who benefited in 2013.

We released the report in a statewide tour – including stops in Erie, Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre and York - with the help of United Way officials, philanthropic leaders and other pre-k advocates from around the commonwealth, who joined us in calling on Pennsylvania to increase its commitment to making high-quality pre-k more accessible.

How accessible is high-quality pre-k in your county? In addition to our new report, we’ve put together this local data to help you find out.

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DHS Releases Recommendations to Further Protect Kids

Pennsylvania has enacted 24 child protection laws over the past few years that have resulted in much-needed improvements to better protect children from abuse and neglect, but one hurdle still remains for lawmakers.

Pennsylvania now needs to address the discrepancies that exist in our current laws for individuals with certain criminal convictions who are seeking employment in a job or volunteer position that involves contact with children. Currently, provisions related to employment bans are not uniform across the Public School Code and the Child Protective Services Law, resulting in individuals with certain criminal convictions wishing to work in a child care setting and those wishing to be employed by a public school with the same criminal history being treated differently.

Act 153 of 2014 required the Department of Human Services (DHS), in conjunction with the Department of Education (PDE) and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), to produce a report recommending changes in permanent and temporary employment bans for individuals having contact with children. Research was conducted on current Pennsylvania statutes as well as nationally on how other states disqualify individuals from employment with children, what those disqualifying offenses are and for what period of time those individuals are prohibited from being employed in a position or profession that has contact with children. These state agencies also enlisted the help of a diverse group of stakeholders, including PPC, to review this research and assist with the development of the recommendations. The study was finalized and submitted to the General Assembly in December 2015.

The recommendations on prohibited crimes and offenses are categorized into four main bans: lifetime, 25 years, 10 years and 5 years. In determining the length of these bans, consideration was given to the safety of children, the seriousness of the offense, federal funding requirements, and an individual’s ability to work and volunteer with children. The recommendations in the report also include a waiver process that would provide an individual with a conviction associated with a temporary ban the opportunity to pursue employment or volunteer responsibilities by waiving that ban. The General Assembly will now review and contemplate the recommendations in the report, then determine the next steps necessary.

Moving forward, PPC will work with the legislature, DHS, PDE, and PCCD with the goal of enacting legislation to further protect children by consistently applying permanent and temporary employment bans to all employees and volunteers that have contact with children regardless of setting.

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New Law Will Help Foster Youth

As 2015 draws to a close, we’re happy to note another victory this year in our efforts to help Pennsylvania’s kids.

Gov. Wolf this week signed a new law (Act 94 of 2015) that will limit the use of one of the least desirable options for finding a permanent home for a foster youth. The option, known as Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), is often used by the courts when better options - such as family reunification, adoption, kinship care or legal guardianship - have been ruled out.

Unfortunately, APPLA is a permanency goal that often results in long-term foster care instead of a permanent home. As PPC noted earlier this year, 80 percent of children and youth with a goal of APPLA who leave foster care do not achieve permanency, and a vast majority “age out” of foster care without ever finding a permanent family to rely on.

PPC knows we can do better by these kids, and that’s why we advocated for changes that limit APPLA’s use to youth age 16 and older and encourage efforts to identify supportive adults willing to be involved in the child’s life. These adults might not necessarily be ready to adopt a child, but they can offer a supportive safety net for foster youth as they make the challenging transition to adulthood.

We were happy to see those changes become law this week, and we’re looking forward to doing more great work with the commonwealth as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services explores alternatives to APPLA.

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A Big Win for Kids’ Health

Cross this one off Harrisburg’s to-do list: Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been renewed for two more years.

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation that reauthorizes CHIP through Dec. 31, 2017. The program, which provides health care coverage to more than 150,000 children, was set to expire at the end of 2015. But in a show of strong bipartisan support that has been a hallmark of CHIP since it began in the 1990s, the state House and Senate unanimously voted to keep CHIP going.

This good news get even better. The CHIP reauthorization measure the governor signed also requires the commonwealth to use “express lane eligibility” to streamline enrollment in CHIP and Medicaid.

In simple terms, express lane eligibility means using existing databases - such as children enrolled in state-subsidized child care or in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - to determine a family’s eligibility for CHIP or Medicaid and letting that family know their child can be insured. This can be an important tool for reaching the more than 139,000 Pennsylvania children who still lack health insurance. PPC has advocated for such streamlined enrollment and we’re pleased to see it become a reality.

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Latest Win for Foster Youth

There are some positive changes coming for Pennsylvania children in foster care. Legislation (HB 1603) awaiting the governor’s signature will limit the use of one of the least desirable options for finding a permanent home for a foster youth.

The option, known as Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), is often used by the courts when better options - such as family reunification, adoption, kinship care or legal guardianship - have been ruled out. But APPLA is a permanency goal that all too often doesn’t actually result in a permanent home for a child in foster care.

Given the lack of permanency afforded by APPLA, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children strongly supported changes that not only limit APPLA’s use to youth age 16 and older, but also encourage efforts to identify supportive adults willing to be involved in the child’s life.

These adults might not necessarily have a permanent home to offer, but they provide the moral and emotional support every child deserves, and the foster youth retains the freedom to decide how involved that adult will be in his or her life. Establishing such connections can create a supportive safety net foster youth can turn to during their remaining years in foster care and once they age out of the system.

This legislation - unanimously approved by the state House and Senate - is a great step toward limiting the use of APPLA, and we look forward to having Gov. Wolf sign it into law in the next few days. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also is taking steps to further explore alternatives to APPLA and plans to report back to the General Assembly with recommendations within the next several months.

PPC will continue our advocacy on reducing, and possibly eliminating, APPLA through this process. To learn more about our public policy work in child welfare, visit our website.

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It’s #GivingTuesday. Be Someone for Kids!

Today is #GivingTuesday, a great day to be someone who makes a difference for kids by supporting Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children!

At PPC, we’re committed to developing long-lasting policy solutions in early learning, k-12 education, children’s health care and child welfare. Here are just some of the ways our work is making a difference:

  • Learning opportunities: We worked to make pre-k and other early learning investments a key topic in last year’s race for governor and this year’s budget negotiations. In Washington, reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant means continuation of Pennsylvania’s largest single source of support for early learning. And PPC helps lead the statewide, nonpartisan Campaign for Fair Education Funding so we can erase Pennsylvania’s shameful mark as one of the worst state’s for school funding fairness and promote a funding formula unanimously recommended by a bipartisan state commission.

  • Children’s health: PPC keeps working to maintain strong bipartisan support for children’s health care coverage, even in tight fiscal times, so we can reach the 139,000 Pennsylvania children who still need and deserve coverage.

  • Child welfare: PPC helped achieve enactment of more than 20 new Pennsylvania child protection laws in the last legislative session, including laws to improve reporting of suspected abuse and hold abusers to the same legal standards no matter where abuse occurs.

These are important achievements for kids, but make no mistake: There is much more to be done. Sadly, Pennsylvania slipped from 16th in the nation for child well-being to 17th in the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book. Our goal is getting Pennsylvania into the top 10 states to be a child and raise a child. It takes work, and frankly, it takes money.

PPC doesn’t seek or receive any government funding. Instead, our efforts are funded through the generous support of people like you who agree that someone needs to speak up for children and families.

This #GivingTuesday, will you please join us and  who makes a difference by making an online donation to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children?

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Two Things That Work

We know from years of research that high-quality pre-k works. It helps prepare kids for kindergarten, reduces the need for costly special education and remedial learning programs, and puts kids on a solid track to years of academic success.

You know what else works? Your voice in growing Pennsylvania’s pre-k investments.

Over the past several weeks, supporters of the nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign (to which we proudly belong) have been calling and emailing the governor and legislative leaders to help ensure the overdue state budget, once it’s finalized, will have significant new investments in high-quality pre-k.

Unfortunately, a final budget deal is not likely to come together until December, and pre-k providers have gone without state support since summer. The result is many providers are struggling to keep their doors open and, sadly, some have been forced to close because of the budget impasse.

The coming days will be crucial to the Pre-K for PA campaign’s efforts. Help us amplify the call for pre-k by joining the campaign. Or if you’ve already joined, recruit a few friends and family over the holiday weekend.

We’re thankful for your support!

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Ready to Change Someone's World?

As we continue to celebrate November as National Adoption Month (and Nov. 21 as National Adoption Day), here's a reminder of the power someone like you can have in forever changing the life of any one of the 1,900 Pennsylvania children who are waiting in foster care to be adopted ...

 

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