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

How Pennsylvania's New Budget Impacts Kids

Pennsylvania’s $31.6 billion budget for fiscal 2016-17 includes some notable increases in investments for children, but it also underscores the work that remains in ensuring all children have the necessary resources to succeed. 

“Pennsylvania is losing ground in national rankings for child well-being, and one reason is because we are not being aggressive enough in providing our children and families with the resources needed to ensure success,” Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso said. “Budgets – even in the most challenging of fiscal times – are about priorities, and we simply have to start prioritizing our children if we want to ensure the commonwealth’s future growth and prosperity.”

Among the highlights of the fiscal 2016-17 spending plan:

  • An additional $200 million for basic education and $20 million for special education, bringing total new education investments over the past two state budgets to $400 million for basic education and $50 million for special education;
  • An additional $30 million for high-quality pre-k programs (equal to last year’s pre-k funding increase);
  • Nearly $200 million in child welfare funding, which will reconcile expenditures from fiscal 2015-16 as well as address some of the needs established by counties for fiscal 2016-17; and
  • $10 million in additional funding for Early Intervention, which provides individualized services and supports to families of children birth to school-age who have developmental delays or disabilities.

While these increases are greatly appreciated (and much needed), they do not go far enough to address the unmet needs of the commonwealth’s children. 

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (which PPC helped found) has estimated that Pennsylvania needs to increase its basic education investments by $3 billion over the next six to eight years. The $200 million increase this year does not put us on a pace to reach that goal. Similarly, we know investments in high-quality pre-k must grow at a much stronger pace if we hope to reach the more than 120,000 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds who miss out on pre-k opportunities each year. 

The enacted budget also failed to include an additional $10 million proposed by the governor to fund Pennsylvania’s evidence-based home visiting programs, and it funds child care services at $12 million less than the governor proposed. 

PPC will continue working hard to ensure children have a voice when it comes to Pennsylvania’s budget priorities. 

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PPC thanks PNC Financial Services Group, Gateway Health, Hershey Foods Corp., Highmark Blue Shield and other generous donors who make our work possible.

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Family-based Care Improves Outcomes for Children

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

Research shows that children and youth living in family-based foster care have better short-and-long-term outcomes than their peers placed in a congregate care setting. Family-based placements allow for children and youth to benefit from additional close relationships and social supports, higher educational achievement and increases their chance of finding a permanent home.    

To learn more about why family-based care is a better choice for our children and the commonwealth, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA.

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Reducing the Use of Congregate Care in PA

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

For Pennsylvania foster youth aged 13-20, family strengthening efforts like family finding and family engagement services through the state’s General Protective Services (GPS) system are critical. The use of congregate care for youth in this age range has been especially prevalent in recent years, as more than 40% were placed in a congregate care setting on any given day in 2015. Increasing family strengthening efforts could help facilitate deeper support for birth families from their relatives, and could lead to the greater use of family and kin as foster family homes, ensuring every child has a chance to grow up in a family-based setting regardless of age.

To learn more about how Pennsylvania can continue to become less reliant on congregate care placements, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA

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Good News on Efforts to Fix Pennsylvania's School Funding

We wanted to share some great news with you. Today, the state House of Representatives approved legislation (House Bill 1552) that adopts the funding formula recommended last year by Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children supports this formula and is pleased to see it head to the governor’s desk.

“For too long, Pennsylvania has needed a predictable, sustainable way to fund its public schools, and today’s vote is a historic step toward that goal,” said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso. “Of course, any formula - no matter how comprehensive - is only as effective as the money that goes into it. Looking ahead, we now need a state budget for fiscal 2016-17 that puts adequate funding behind a formula and helps drive out that funding in a way that helps ensure every child has the resources to succeed in the classroom.

“We are hopeful the governor and state lawmakers can now work together to continue to make significant annual investments in our schools over multiple years to close the adequacy gap that leaves too many children without the resources they need to learn,” Benso added.

“We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers and other interested parties to build on today’s action and help create an adequate and equitable system of funding Pennsylvania’s public schools for years to come.”

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Family-based Foster Care: A Smarter Financial Choice

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

Research shows family-based care is a better option for children placed in foster care, as well as less costly for the child welfare system. Congregate care placements cost child welfare systems seven to ten times more than family-based placements and those costs can be even higher when children require additional behavioral health services. Congregate care placement costs place a further strain on a child welfare system already facing budgetary challenges.

To learn more about why family-based care is a better choice for our children and the commonwealth, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA.

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PA Pediatricians Call for Stronger Pre-k Investments

A group of pediatricians from across Pennsylvania visited the Capitol this week calling for stronger investments in high-quality pre-k. Their visit coincided with the release of a new report from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (PA AAP) that details the role high-quality pre-k can have in a child's healthy development.

These medical professionals know the years before a child enters kindergarten are a critical window for healthy cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. They also know too many of Pennsylvania's at-risk children - young learners who could benefit from the supportive, nurturing environment of a quality pre-k classroom - miss out on pre-k because we aren't investing enough in it.

Dr. Susan Kressly, president of the PA AAP, notes adverse social or economic conditions can be detrimental to a child's healthy development and lead to "toxic stress" - the type of extreme, frequent and persistent stress that can actually alter a child's brain development. One way to mitigate the impact of toxic stress is to provide young children with caring relationships and stable, supportive environments. "Those are exactly the kinds of positive relationships and environments found in Pennsylvania's high-quality pre-k programs," Dr. Kressly says.

That's why the PA AAP supports Pre-K for PA's request for a $90 million increase in high-quality pre-k funding for fiscal 2016-17. It's a common-sense investment that can help more young learners be healthier and better prepared for success in school and beyond.

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PPC thanks PNC Financial Services Group, Hershey Foods Corp., Highmark Blue Shield and other generous donors who make our work possible.

Stay on top of the latest news affecting Pennsylvania's children by following us via social media:

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The Advantages of Family-based Foster Care

At Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, we believe every child deserves to grow up in a home where he or she feels safe and part of a loving, nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from a home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as "congregate care."

Our latest report – Congregate Foster Care in PA – details why family-based care is a better choice than congregate care for the child and the commonwealth.

The report explains how children and youth living in family-based foster care settings tend to have better short-term and long-term outcomes. And from a financial standpoint, congregate care placement is seven to 10 times more expensive than family-based placements - an additional cost that can place further strain on child welfare systems already facing budgetary struggles.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania has made solid progress in recent years to shift away from congregate care and towards family-based placements. The report offers recommendations on how Pennsylvania can continue this positive movement.

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