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

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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Behind the Numbers on Child Abuse Reports

At the start of 2015, a number of new child protection requirements took effect in Pennsylvania, including an expansion of how child abuse is defined and who is required to report it. You may have heard some counties across the commonwealth are beginning to see sharp increases in reporting. For instance, as of Jan. 16, the Children's Bureau in Westmoreland County had 29 percent more reports than in the entire month of January 2014. This has spurred the county to increase its staff complement by 10 percent to handle the increased workload. Cumberland County is another example where additional staff are being added to the ranks.

While there may be a temporary surge in reporting due to increased awareness, time will tell if the new Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) has grown child welfare workloads indefinitely. Clearly, the new requirements broaden the scope of reports to which local child welfare agencies must respond. Previously, law enforcement would have handled some of these reports independently because the alleged perpetrator might not have fallen under the CPSL definition of a potential perpetrator of child abuse, even though they may have committed a crime against a child.

There also are other drivers for increased reporting, such as how the new CPSL lowers the threshold on what rises to the level of child abuse and the expansion of individuals required to report suspected abuse.

The ripple effect of the new CPSL must be monitored closely by policymakers, media and key stakeholders. Increased reporting means the child welfare system must increase its response – this could require additional staffing, child welfare services, court interaction, use of foster care, etc. This chain reaction has implications related to cost, but it also enables greater hope our children will be safer.

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Let’s Tell Congress: Extend CHIP Funding

Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is set to expire at the end of September 2015. This funding supports health care coverage to more than 150,000 children in Pennsylvania today.

Over the past two decades since it began, CHIP has enabled hundreds of thousands of children to receive affordable, quality health care coverage. It has become an essential form of health care coverage for working families and provides access to quality physical and behavioral health care, as well as vision and dental benefits. Without action by Congress, CHIP coverage for Pennsylvania’s children could soon end.  

Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation needs to hear from its constituents to ensure CHIP stays funded. Your voice is critical to this effort!

Please join individuals and organizations in telling our members of Congress that we want their leadership and support for continued investment in CHIP. Take these two simple steps:

1) Add your name and/or the name of your organization to this letter asking PA Congressional members to support the extension of CHIP.

2) Forward this message to a friend and ask them to add their name and organization.

Pennsylvania’s children and families are counting on our help. 

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New Year Brings New Child Protection Laws

On Dec. 31, 10 pieces of child protection legislation that were signed into law earlier this year will formally take effect. These pending changes to Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law will strengthen the legal language regarding child abuse, along with the legal requirements for reporting it, to better protect children.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has established a website for the public to access information on the new law. The site - www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov - provides information on who is considered a mandatory reporter, child abuse clearance requirements, information on training and much more.

Another important resource developed by DHS pertains to state Child Abuse History Clearances. On Dec. 31, these clearance requests can be submitted and paid for online through a self-service portal, www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis. Submitting an application online allows individual applicants to receive their results through an automated system that will notify the applicant once their results have been processed. Applicants will be able to view and print their results online. The portal also streamlines clearance checks by offering the ability for organizations to create business accounts to prepay for child abuse clearances and have online access to the results.

Whether you are a new mandatory reporter or need child abuse and criminal background clearances, we encourage you to visit www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov to learn more about what you can do to protect children from abuse and neglect.

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Preventing Child Abuse Through Evidence-Based Home Visiting

More than 20 new laws were enacted in Pennsylvania in 2013-14 as part of an unprecedented legislative effort to improve the reporting and investigation of child abuse and neglect.

Overhauling Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law was in response to a call to action issued by the Task Force on Child Protection. But the task force’s recommendations were not limited to the identification of child abuse and neglect. They also sought to reduce instances of child abuse and neglect through stronger investment in evidence-based prevention strategies.

Fortunately, the General Assembly responded to the task force’s call for prevention when the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution requiring the Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) to study existing evidence-based child abuse prevention programs and determine how to better financially incentivize and integrate such strategies into commonwealth policy.

The recently released JSGC report summarizes various evidence-based child abuse prevention programs, highlighting research on their impact and providing a series of recommendations to encourage their use. Evidence-based home visitation services are discussed throughout the report as an important primary and secondary means of preventing child abuse and neglect, because research demonstrates the ability of these services to address a host of risk factors associated with child maltreatment.

One critically important way all of us can help ensure Pennsylvania invests in these services is to speak to our members of Congress about the need to extend funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program. Federal funding under this program is allowing Pennsylvania to provide evidence-based home visiting services to an additional 2,300 children across the commonwealth. The program expires in March of 2015. Help us encourage members of Congress to extend funding for MIECHV at its current level.

For further information on the impact of MIECHV in Pennsylvania, see PPC’s fact sheet on evidence-based home visiting.

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The Future of CHIP

Did you know health insurance status is the single most important factor impacting children’s access to health care?

Kids who have insurance are more likely to be immunized, receive regular checkups and get prompt treatment for common childhood ailments. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a strong bipartisan history of providing health care coverage to children through Medicaid and CHIP. Pennsylvania started one of the first children’s health insurance programs in the nation in 1992 to help provide quality coverage to children in working families with incomes above Medicaid levels, but insufficient to purchase private coverage. Federal CHIP was patterned after Pennsylvania’s successful program and funded for all states in 1997.

Because CHIP, in combination with Medicaid, was succeeding at providing health care coverage for children, the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) was built on top of it. The ACA authorized CHIP through 2019. But because CHIP is not an entitlement, funding is not permanent and is only authorized through September 2015. PPC is advocating that federal CHIP funding be extended, preferably to coincide with the 2019 reauthorization deadline.

We were pleased to see the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health hold a hearing on the future of CHIP on Dec. 3. Testifiers discussed how CHIP works and how the ACA has impacted the program. PPC has expressed concerns that without CHIP families would have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and co-pays, for similar coverage on the marketplace than they pay with CHIP. It is also important to note that if the program is not funded, the affordability test (the so-called “family glitch” in the ACA) would leave many children with no coverage options, as no subsidy would be available to purchase coverage on the marketplace. These points were raised by witnesses at the hearing as well.

Pennsylvanians are fortunate that U.S. Reps. Joe Pitts (PA-16) and Tim Murphy (PA-18) are members of the subcommittee and are very engaged in this issue. Both previously served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, so they understand the commonwealth’s program as well. Rep. Pitts, who serves as the subcommittee chairman, opened the hearing by noting: “In 1992, as a member of the state House of Representatives, I was proud to vote to create Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as PA CHIP.” He called for extending federal CHIP funding and said that even though funding won’t end until September, states need certainty sooner rather than later due to budgeting timelines.

Also during the hearing, a question from Rep. Murphy to a testifier verified that, without CHIP funding and with the existence of the family glitch, many children likely would lose health coverage. Rep. Murphy concluded his remarks by noting that “Pennsylvania’s CHIP program has demonstrated strong value” and rather than cut something that is working, Congress should learn from the program and ensure families don’t go without insurance.

PPC thanks Reps. Pitts and Murphy for their focus on this issue and thoughtful comments during the hearing. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on progress towards extending CHIP funding for the more than 150,000 Pennsylvania children that depend on it for their health care.

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Our Message to You on #GivingTuesday

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 children’s healthcare, child welfare, early learning and quality K-12 education. In 2013-14, our strategic approach to children’s advocacy has contributed to:

  • The enactment of more than 20 new child protection laws, including laws to improve reporting of suspected abuse and to hold abusers to the same legal standards no matter where abuse occurs;
  • Improving the accessibility of children’s health care through reauthorization of Pennsylvania’s CHIP program and elimination of a six-month enrollment waiting period;
  • Creation of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a statewide, nonpartisan effort by more than 40 organizations representing a diverse range of interests working to find a better way to fund our public schools so every child has the resources needed to succeed academically; and
  • The launch of two other nonpartisan campaigns – Pre-K for PA and Early Learning PA – focused on boosting the state’s investments in high-quality pre-k and other proven early learning resources.

With your help, we look forward to building on these successes and achieving more wins for children in the year ahead!

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 to “BE SOMEONE” who makes a difference by making an online donation to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children?

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Is There Room At Your Table?

In observance of National Adoption Month, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children Development Director Audrey Eisenberg shares her perspective on making the needs of children in foster care a priority …

The other night, my caseworker called to cancel our final pre-adoption home visit because she was trying to find an emergency placement for four siblings – a process she anticipated could take the remainder of her evening.

My heart dropped. I wanted to help them ... ALL of them, whatever their situation was, however old, whatever color they are. I wanted to give them warm jammies and a hug and a safe bed. And I wanted to find a way to keep them together, these four kids who I can only assume have helped each other through some pretty tough situations in their short lives so far.

No sooner had I uttered the question, “Can we take them?” to my husband, than I knew the answer; it was preposterous to even ask. We have five beautiful children, four of whom have joined our family through foster care and adoption. They are ages 10, 6, 4, 4, and 2 ½. We love them completely (and yes, they are “normal children” who occasionally drive us completely crazy). Our commitment to raising them well – meeting their needs, encouraging their interests, teaching them to love and respect others – means that now is not the right time for our family to help these four siblings who need to find a home.

But what about you? Is there room at your table? As you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, can you acknowledge the heart-tug you feel when you’re reminded that there are some children who don’t have a mom and dad they can rely on to provide the care and support they deserve? And can you take a moment to consider – really consider – whether that tug may mean it’s your family’s turn to help?

Foster care is not for everyone: The process of becoming a licensed foster family requires time and patience; relationships with biological families can be challenging; decisions about a child’s permanency can take years to establish; foster children’s life experiences and needs may test your limits and understanding. And not every foster child will call your family her “forever home.”

Still, last year more than 20,000 U.S. children “aged out” of the foster care system without being adopted, without the promise of a family who would love and support them into adulthood. There are currently more than 102,000 waiting to be adopted nationwide, including more than 1,900 children awaiting adoption in Pennsylvania.

Each one of these children deserves a place at a family Thanksgiving table.

This year, as you pass the mashed potatoes and look forward to the pumpkin pie, take count of your blessings. Can you add another plate or two (or four!?) at the table by this time next year?

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High-quality pre-k “has just done amazing things”

As a founding partner of the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign, we wanted to share a quick story with you from a parent who has seen the benefits of high-quality pre-k.

Earlier this week, representatives from the Pre-K for PA campaign (including PPC President and CEO Joan Benso) were featured guests on a central Pennsylvania talk show, making the case for why Pennsylvania needs to drastically expand access to high-quality pre-k for the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds. A mom named Julie from York County called in to share how she found an affordable Pre-K Counts program for her son, who she feared might not be prepared to succeed in kindergarten. In Julie’s own words …

“It has just done amazing things. I was against (enrolling him in) kindergarten because I just knew that he wouldn’t be able to handle being in a classroom that long. And now, no worries whatsoever after him being able to be in this program. He didn’t need it for the academics. He needed it for the social, he needed it for the emotional stuff. … He has just succeeded so well in this program that I wish it was available more.”

We wish it were more available too, Julie. That’s why we’re working hard to make the case for increasing state investments in high-quality pre-k programs like Pre-K Counts and Head Start.

And that’s why the Pre-K for PA campaign needs voices like Julie’s – and yours – to tell Gov.-elect Tom Wolf and the General Assembly that investments in high-quality pre-k need to be a priority for 2015.

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Stalled Progress in Covering Uninsured Kids

Pennsylvania’s slow progress in covering more uninsured children is hardly unique, according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families that found a similar trend nationwide.

The report, Children’s Coverage at A Crossroads: Progress Slows, states the uninsured rate for children in the U.S. did not significantly decline in 2013 from the previous year, remaining just above 7 percent. Pennsylvania fares a bit better, with a children’s uninsured rate of a little more than 5 percent – but that rate also has changed little in recent years.

The CCF report also found:

  • Children in families living on the brink of poverty (100 to 199 percent of federal poverty level) are disproportionately uninsured and saw no significant improvement in their health care coverage rates.
  • School-aged children (ages 6-17) are more likely than younger children (under 6) to be uninsured.
  • Children living in rural areas are disproportionately uninsured. Nationally, 18.1 percent of children live in rural areas, but uninsured children in rural areas make up more than 20 percent of all uninsured children.

The report notes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can play a critical role in reducing the number of uninsured children. These two programs collectively cover more than 1.2 million Pennsylvania children, with CHIP serving more than 160,000 kids. But CHIP’s success in covering kids could be jeopardized if federal CHIP funding is not renewed by Congress before it expires in 2015.

That’s why PPC has been making the case to Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation to support an extension of CHIP funding through 2019. A program with proven success in covering kids and a history of strong, bipartisan support certainly deserves continued funding.

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