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

“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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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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The Competitive Advantage of High-Quality Pre-k

Access to high-quality pre-kindergarten isn’t just an education issue - it’s an economic development issue.

Research shows high-quality pre-k helps build a stronger workforce, boost employment rates and fuel higher lifetime earnings. This means states that prioritize investments in high-quality pre-k enjoy a competitive advantage over states that fail to do so. As it turns out, Pennsylvania is surrendering that competitive advantage to many of its neighbors.

The latest report from the Pre-K for PA campaign finds most of the states that border Pennsylvania – Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia – are making high-quality pre-k available to a larger percentage of their 3- and 4-year-olds. That means they stand to see greater returns on this proven early learning investment.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children became a founding member of the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign because we want to help turn this situation around and make the commonwealth an undisputed leader in access to high-quality pre-k. We realize increasing pre-k access requires additional state investments, but we also realize all of us have too much to lose if we let Pennsylvania’s young learners lag behind.

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Unifying Our Focus on Foster Youth

Some positive developments have taken place on a national scale in recent weeks when it comes to foster care.

As part of National Foster Care Month in May, the White House’s Domestic Policy Council convened a workgroup from across seven federal departments to focus on a single goal: identifying opportunities to better help current and former foster youth. This broad-scale meeting of the minds resulted in numerous outreach and public education efforts meant to improve outcomes for the nearly 400,000 children and youth in foster care each year and the 24,000 young adults who “age out” of foster care annually without a permanent legal family.

Among the efforts that have resulted:

  • New reports from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development  on housing for youth who have aged out of foster care.
  • A new web-based resource from the U.S. Department of Education providing resources and information to educators who work with foster youth.
  • Guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on outreach strategies to ensure children and youth keep Medicaid coverage when they transition home after foster care or age out of care.

Given the extraordinary challenges often faced by foster youth, it is heartening to see federal government working cooperatively and proactively to help ease these challenges.

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Budget Time = Time to Invest in Pre-k

We know high-quality pre-k works to help prepare children for a lifetime of learning and success. But high-quality pre-k serves far too few children in Pennsylvania. That’s because the amount of public funds available for pre-k is only enough to help about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds access high-quality programs.

As lawmakers in Harrisburg work to craft a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, help us remind them to make high-quality pre-k a priority in the state budget by sharing this graphic on social media or in your emails …

And share this information with your elected officials …

  • Investment in pre-k saves taxpayers’ money in the long term by reducing the need for special education and remedial instruction, and increasing the rates of graduation and college enrollment.
  • Every $1 invested in pre-k generates $1.79 in local economic activity and returns up to $17 in long-term public savings through reduced costs to our schools and society.
  • Other states - including many of Pennsylvania’s neighbors - are making high-quality pre-k availability on a broader scale, meaning they will see greater benefits. Pennsylvania is lagging behind. The time to invest is now.

And if you know someone who hasn’t already signed on as a supporter of the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign, please share this message with them.

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The Difference Pre-k Makes

Across the commonwealth this month, Pennsylvania’s high school seniors are proudly donning caps and gowns and standing with their classmates and teachers as they accept their diplomas – a huge accomplishment.

We know (thanks to volumes of research) that high-quality pre-k is a solid foundation for a great education. High-quality pre-k greatly increases the likelihood of high school graduation and college enrollment, in turn leading to stronger employment opportunities and increased lifetime earning potential.

That’s why the work we are doing as part of the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign is so important.

We are proud of the commonwealth’s high school graduates and equally proud of the support people like you are showing in the effort to increase access to high-quality pre-k for every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania. With your support, we can help ensure Pennsylvania will have many more high school graduates to celebrate in the future – graduates that benefitted from high-quality-pre-k.

If you know someone who hasn’t already signed on as a supporter of the Pre-K for PA campaign, please forward this message to them.

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Child Abuse Complaints Set Record in 2013

The number of suspected child abuse reports in the commonwealth reached a record high in 2013, though abuse substantiations declined slightly, according to the Annual Child Abuse Report released last week by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

The report found:

  • There were 26,944 reports of suspected abuse in 2013, up from 26,664 reports in 2012.
  • 3,425 reports of abuse – or 12.7 percent – were substantiated in 2013, compared to 3,565 substantiated cases (13.4 percent) in 2012.
  • 302 substantiated cases, or 9 percent, involved children who had been abused before. This was up from 283 (8 percent) re-abuse cases in 2012.
  • 38 children died from abuse in 2013, up from 33 in 2012.

The latest report marked the second year in a row that Pennsylvania set a record for suspected reports of child abuse – a trend that quite likely has been driven in part by the increased public awareness about child abuse in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and other high-profile abuse cases. Yet substantiation rates have declined, just as they did last year.

One reason Pennsylvania tends to have among the lowest child abuse substantiation rates in the nation is because our legal threshold for defining abuse has been set higher than in other states, essentially making it more difficult to meet the legal definition of abuse, noted Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso.

“Thankfully, a new law that will take effect later this year lowers the threshold for what constitutes child abuse, particularly relating to physical abuse. Other measures signed into law last month eliminate a separate definition of ‘student abuse’ that effectively set a higher threshold for defining abuse by school employees,” Benso said. “Together, these laws will improve our collective efforts to make Pennsylvania’s children safer.”

Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect can anonymously report their concerns to ChildLine, the state’s toll-free hotline, at 1-800-932-0313 (TDD 1-866-872-1677).

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Former PA Governors Push for Pre-k

These days, there seem to be few things the major political parties agree on, but two former Pennsylvania governors - one a Democrat, the other a Republican - came together this week to speak up for something that has broad, bi-partisan support: high-quality pre-k.

On Monday, former governors Ed Rendell and Mark Schweiker made joint appearances in Erie and Philadelphia to speak about the urgent need for Pennsylvania to boost its investments in high-quality pre-k so more young learners can benefit. Currently, about 244,000 of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds lack access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. That’s nearly a quarter of a million missed opportunities that impact the entire commonwealth – from our schools to our communities to our workforce.

“How you treat 3- and 4-year-olds will have everything to do with how they fare in an academic sense in grades 3, 4 and so on,” Schweiker said. “There is a direct connection between what goes on when they’re age 3 and what they'll do later in life, let no one tell you otherwise.”

“Study after study shows the proven benefits of quality early learning,” Rendell said. “From lower dropout and crime rates to stronger communities and businesses, the reasons to expand access are mounting.”

These former governors are hardly alone in recognizing Pennsylvania must do more. That’s why support for high-quality pre-k is one issue that receives enthusiastic support from Republican and Democratic voters alike. In fact, 67 percent of Pennsylvania voters across party lines support expanding access to high-quality pre-k programs.

We might not all be former governors, but we all have a voice in the future of our children and our commonwealth. Make your voice heard by joining Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and other in the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign.

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Keystone Exams: 5 Things to Know

Many Pennsylvania high school students have taken Keystone Exams in Algebra I, Literature or Biology in recent weeks as they wrapped up their school year.

Keystone Exams are a graduation requirement for the class of 2017 and beyond – a multi-year timetable that will give students and educators an opportunity to adjust as high schools move away from the 11th grade PSSAs and toward the course-specific Keystone Exams. Of course, changes like this often raise concerns and occasional misconceptions, so here are five key points about Keystone Exams you should know:

1. Keystone Exams are not “more tests.” The exams replaced the 11th grade reading, math and science PSSAs, which often were administered to students years after they had taken the coursework. Because Keystones Exams are taken immediately after students have taken the course, the information is fresher and more relevant.

2. Keystone Exams are not “high stakes” tests. A student can re-take a Keystone Exam (or part of an exam) multiple times until proficiency is shown. If a student doesn’t pass the Keystone Exams after multiple attempts, the student can show proficiency through other options, such as project-based assessments, or receive a waiver from the chief school administrator.

3. Keystone Exams will not lead to “teaching to the test.” Keystone Exams are aligned with the recently enacted PA Core Standards in English and math and with the state’s biology standards. If school officials design curriculum to align to the standards and teachers instruct to ensure students achieve to those standards, then aligned assessments (the Keystone Exams) simply measure students’ knowledge of the standards. “Teaching to the test” is not a valid concern.

4. Keystone Exams are not a federal idea or mandate. The exams were developed in Pennsylvania for our students, with input from Pennsylvania educators and field-tested in the commonwealth to ensure they truly measure the commonwealth’s standards.

5. Keystone Exams raise the bar for our students. Each year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania students receive diplomas despite failing to demonstrate proficiency in reading and math. Many of these students go on to postsecondary education and have to enroll in (and pay for) non-credit bearing remedial classes. Keystone Exams are a critical part of our efforts to raise our expectations and help our students achieve to higher levels.

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