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Focusing on the initiative- dubbed the Porch Light Project – to safely reduce the number of children and youth in foster care in PA and to ensure a forever family for every child.

What’s Next for Child Welfare in 2017

The coming year is expected to be busy for federal programs and policies that affect children which, in some cases, will subsequently effect state legislative work as well. As we wrote last week, attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act may negatively affect not only children and youth in foster care, but also biological, resource and adoptive families who receive supports through grants at risk of elimination.

Additional topics of interest for lawmakers, child welfare professionals and advocates alike include home visiting programs, child welfare finance reform, and educational stability provisions for foster youth. See below for what’s next in 2017 for these three priorities:

Home Visiting

The federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program will be up for reauthorization in 2017. Here in Pennsylvania, four evidence-based home visiting models are currently funded through the MIECHV program: Early Head Start; Healthy Families America; Nurse-Family Partnership; and Parents as Teachers. In these services, nurses and other trained professionals visit families with infants and toddlers to provide parent education and support and promote their children’s health, well-being, learning and development. In March 2010, Congress authorized the creation of the MIECHV program to promote evidence-based home visiting programs that strengthen health and development outcomes for at-risk children and their families. Originally authorized for five years, Congress extended MIECHV funding for two additional years in 2015; absent Congressional action, MIECHV will expire in September 2017. PPC will not only continue to pursue federal reauthorization, but also advocate for an increased state appropriation to better support these services in the commonwealth in 2017 and beyond.

Finance Reform

Federal child welfare finance reform was a national topic of conversation in 2016 with the roller coaster development of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). Passed unanimously in the U.S. House in June, the bill subsequently died in the U.S. Senate, before undergoing two seeming resurrections through the 21st Century Cures Act and the Continuing Resolution (the provisions did not make it into the final iteration of either). The FFPSA makes needed and important reforms to many federal child welfare financing mechanisms to support prevention efforts and reduce congregate care placements for foster youth. It seems likely we will see a new version of the FFPSA in early 2017, but it remains to be known what form it may take as many of the cost-savings provisions were only possible if passed during this recent legislative session. PPC fully supports efforts targeted at reducing the use of congregate care and increasing family-based placements for youth in foster care, and will continue to support the bill’s re-introduction and passage in 2017.

Educational Stability

On December 10, 2016, provisions included in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that affect students in foster care went into effect. As we noted previously, a portion of the law requires states to allow these students to remain enrolled in their same school when entering foster care or experiencing a placement change, unless remaining in the same school would be a risk to the child's safety or well-being. Local education agency transportation plans are due to the Pennsylvania Department of Education by January 31, 2017, which will outline exactly how school districts and child welfare agencies plan to coordinate to ensure students in foster care are not only provided school stability, but are also provided transportation to their original school as needed. Pennsylvania failed to codify any of the federal law into state statute, though amendments to Title 42 passed in the Senate this fall. PPC will continue to monitor the need for such legislation in 2017, and ensure the ESSA is being implemented to its full fidelity, ensuring foster youth receive the right of a safe and stable school placement.

Projecting activity between sessions is a challenge, particularly in years of a presidential transition. While we can’t predict what will happen in 2017, PPC remains committed to working to enact policies and programs that ensure all children are raised in loving families free from abuse and neglect.

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