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

Eliminating APPLA in PA

Pennsylvania has made laudable progress to strengthen permanency efforts for foster children and youth in recent years, but more needs to be done to eliminate the least desirable court-ordered goal available - known as Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement, or APPLA.

Too often, APPLA translates into long-term foster care instead of a permanent home for children and youth in foster care. Other options - like placement with relatives, family reunification, legal guardianship or adoption - typically result in better outcomes for foster youth.

The good news is there are targeted practices and policies Pennsylvania can implement to deter, and ultimately eliminate, the use of APPLA. We take a look at some of these options in our latest report, Eliminating APPLA for All Children.

If we work together, Pennsylvania can ensure every child in foster care eventually finds a permanent home. Our children and youth in foster care deserve nothing less.

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More Evidence CHIP Works for Kids, Families

A recent national report to Congress confirms what families who benefit from Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program already know: CHIP is a cost-effective way to keep kids healthy.

The report analyzed out-of-pocket spending for children with coverage through the health care marketplace compared to those covered by CHIP. It found CHIP requires less out-of-pocket spending, on average, than marketplace coverage in every one of the 36 states analyzed, including Pennsylvania. While CHIP limits out-of-pocket expenses to be no more than 5 percent of family income, marketplace coverage provides no such protection.

While the Affordable Care Act is working to make health care coverage more affordable and accessible, the findings underscore that CHIP remains a good deal for kids and families. It also means that if CHIP is not funded by the federal government beyond Sept. 30, 2017, families benefitting from CHIP now could end up paying higher out-of-pocket expenses if they have to buy coverage though the health insurance marketplace.

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A Simple Act That Could Save a Child

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so we’re asking you to take a few seconds to do one simple thing …

Put this number into your phone contacts: 1-800-932-0313.

It’s a toll-free number for ChildLine, Pennsylvania’s child abuse hotline. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reports can be made anonymously.

Once the ChildLine number is in your phone directory, pass the number along to friends, family and colleagues who might not have it in their phones. Remind them that anyone can (and should) report suspected child abuse or neglect.

If you are among Pennsylvania’s mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect, remember that you can either call ChildLine or make a report online.

It’s our collective responsibility to help keep all children safe from harm.

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A Proactive Approach to Child Safety

A federal commission that spent the past two years reviewing issues related to child abuse and neglect fatalities is calling for a “public health approach to child safety” that puts a stronger emphasis on prevention.

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) issued a report on March 17 that makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Calling on states to undertake a five-year retrospective review of child abuse and neglect fatalities to identify family and systemic circumstances that led to fatalities.
  • Having states review their policies on screening reports of abuse and neglect to ensure children most at risk for fatality - those under age 3 - receive the appropriate response and their families are prioritized for services.
  • Holding programs such as Medicaid and home visiting accountable for ensuring their services are focused on reducing abuse and neglect fatalities.
  • Enactment of federal legislation that sets a minimum standard designating which professionals should be mandatory reporters of abuse or neglect.

Dr. David Sanders, the executive vice president of Casey Family Programs and the chair of the commission, said the current network of child abuse services and supports “does not adequately ensure safety for children because much of it is reactionary after a death has occurred.”

“Over the long term,” he said, “we need to dramatically redesign our approach to ensure children and families in crisis receive the supports and interventions they need to address the complex issues impacting families and prevent harm before it occurs. Based on what we learned as a commission, I am convinced that we have the knowledge to reduce the number of children who will die today, tomorrow and in the future.”

The full report is available on the commission’s website.

As we head into April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we hope Pennsylvania officials will use the commission’s report to consider ways the commonwealth can improve its child welfare system and further strengthen our proactive approach to ending child abuse and neglect.

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A Budget Season Update from PPC

With another budget season underway at the state Capitol, we wanted to fill you in on how Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is busy building the case for stronger investments in the commonwealth’s 2.8 million kids.

As legislative hearings on the state budget continue, we’ll be in the halls of the Capitol making sure the interests of Pennsylvania’s children are being represented – and we’ll ask you to lend your voice to the cause.

We hope you’ll join us in speaking up for kids. Stay tuned …

OTHER NEWS

Is Pre-k Available Where You Live?

As part of our work with Pre-K for PA campaign, PPC has put together county-level fact sheets detailing the lack of pre-k availability across the commonwealth and highlighting the many benefits of high-quality pre-k. Learn more …

State of Child Welfare

One of our goals at PPC is to strengthen the child welfare system to improve conditions for children and youth in foster care and help create healthier family relationships. A critical part of that work is compiling our annual “State of Child Welfare” data, which we’ve recently updated. Learn more …

Mark Your Calendar for Fair Funding

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding will host a press conference at the Capitol on March 8 to coincide with budget hearings related to Pennsylvania’s education spending. You can join in on social media if you can't be there in person. Learn more …

Helping Kids by Reducing ‘Churn’

Many Pennsylvania children and families rely on public benefits programs like Medicaid or SNAP, yet these benefits are sometimes needlessly lost due to the “churn” that can occur when recipients lose benefits because of procedural issues - despite still being eligible for the benefits - and have to reapply. There are simple, cost-saving steps Pennsylvania can take to streamline public benefits programs and reduce “churn.” Learn more …

 

 

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Check out our latest ‘State of Child Welfare’ data

One of our goals at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is to strengthen the child welfare system to improve conditions for the children and youth in foster care and help create healthier family relationships. A critical part of that work is compiling our annual “State of Child Welfare” data, which helps gauge the performance of Pennsylvania's child welfare system in meeting the needs of the children and families the system serves.

Each year, we gather comprehensive data for each of the 67 counties, including information on foster care placements, children leaving or re-entering foster care, and efforts to reunify children with parents or relatives.

Just this month, we released the 2016 State of Child Welfare data. Among the notable findings:

Reports of Child Abuse
Overall reports of suspected child abuse have increased 18.9 percent since 2010. While this increase can at first seem alarming, the passage of over two dozen child protection laws between 2013 through 2015 has increased public awareness and responsibilities of mandated reporters of child abuse.

Congregate Care
The proportion of Pennsylvania foster children remaining in a congregate care setting has decreased from 20 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015. This downward trend is important for foster children because research shows that children living in family care settings have better educational outcomes and are more likely to exit foster care into a permanent family setting.

APPLA 16-20
About 1 in 5 youth age 16-20 had a permanency goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) in 2015. APPLA is generally recognized as the least desirable permanency goal for foster youth and should only be considered if other options such as reunification, adoption or legal guardianship have been ruled out. During 2015, 76 percent of children leaving foster care with a goal of APPLA exited to non-permanent arrangements.

Looking ahead, PPC will be using some of this data to help shape public policy regarding the use of congregate care and APPLA, with the goal of improving the foster care system to better serve children and families.

You can learn more and review comprehensive data for the commonwealth and each of its 67 counties by visiting PPC’s website.

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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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