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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.

Take Some Time to #MeetTheKids

If you’re familiar with Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, or SWAN, you might recall a powerful video campaign last year called “Meet the Kids.”

The campaign featured real kids – not actors – who were in foster care. They spoke from the heart about their experiences, hopes and expectations as they awaited their “forever families.” As a result of the campaign, six of the 12 kids featured in the “Meet the Kids” debut are among the many Pennsylvania foster youth who have been matched with permanent families in the past year.

We’re happy to share the news that “Meet the Kids” is back for a second year, and you can hear the unscripted, first-person stories of 12 more young people in the foster care system. We hope you’ll take the time to watch these moving videos on YouTube and share them on social media using the hashtag #MeetTheKids.

And if you’re interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent (or know someone who is) visit the SWAN website at adoptpakids.org or call 1-800-585-SWAN.

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“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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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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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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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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Emancipation Proclamations … Stories from Foster Youth

In the spirit of National Foster Care Month, take a few minutes to watch the video below and hear the first-hand accounts of young people who are veterans of the foster care system. Their stories convey the challenges and the triumphs of growing up in foster care. And in many cases, the lives of these young people were turned around by someone who offered the time and patience to make a difference.

Watch this short video – Emancipation Proclamations – and ask yourself: “What difference can I make?”

Stayed tuned to PPC’s Porch Light Project as we continue our efforts to help ensure every child has a “forever family” – a home where the porch light is always left on to guide and welcome a child home.

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For Some, Mother’s Day Can Be Bittersweet

Many of us will take time this weekend to reflect on the important role our mothers had in shaping our lives. We’ll spend time with our moms, call them to say “happy Mother’s Day” or fondly remember the great times we had with them over the years.

But for some, Mother’s Day will be a bittersweet, or perhaps even meaningless, event. This is the case for many children in foster care. You might not know May is not only the month when we celebrate moms. It’s also National Foster Care Month - the official month for recognizing the thousands of foster children in Pennsylvania and hundreds of thousands across the country who are without their moms (and dads) either temporarily or permanently for any number of tragic reasons.

As we recognize National Foster Care Month, each of us should ask ourselves what we can do to improve the lives of children in foster care? How can we improve the odds these children will someday be able to celebrate Mother’s Day like many of us are privileged to do? We should recognize the great strides we’ve already made as there are far fewer children in foster care in Pennsylvania today than were in foster care even five years ago, but we also must recommit ourselves to the many aspects of Pennsylvania’s child welfare and foster care systems where further work remains.

Stayed tuned to the efforts of PPC’s Porch Light Project as we continue our efforts to help ensure every child has a “forever family” – a home where the porch light is always left on to guide and welcome a child home.

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An End to ‘Student Abuse’

Two important child protection bills related to abuse in schools were approved by state lawmakers this week and now await the governor’s signature.

The bills - one sponsored by Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) and the other by Rep. Dave Maloney (R-Berks) - abolish a legal definition of “student abuse” that effectively set a higher threshold for defining child abuse by school employees. Once these bills are signed into law, school employees will be held to the same legal standard as any other adult when it comes to determining whether a child has been abused and Pennsylvania will no longer be the only state to have this odd, troublesome double standard in its child abuse definitions. Abuse is abuse, and it should be treated the same no matter where it occurs.

This improvement to our child abuse laws has been a long time coming. Sen. Fontana first introduced legislation to repeal “student abuse” in 2005 and for nine years he and PPC, as well as many other child advocates, have sought a repeal of “student abuse.” Fortunately, the state’s Task Force on Child Protection prioritized this issue in its comprehensive recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

We congratulate Sen. Fontana and Rep. Maloney for championing this issue in their respective chambers and for their commitment to ensuring strong child protection policy in our schools. PPC applauds the General Assembly for continuing to demonstrate their commitment to making our kids safer.

Stay tuned to PPC for updates on remaining child protection bills that await legislative action.

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New Child Protection Laws Signed

In case you missed it, Gov. Tom Corbett signed four more child protection bills into law yesterday, adding to the great work state officials have done in recent months to better protect kids from abuse and neglect. The newest laws include:

  • Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), which identifies who is legally obligated to report suspected child abuse and requires them to report directly to ChildLine. Ultimately, it eliminates reporting to authorities through chain-of-command policies in some institutions – one of the key recommendations of the state’s Task Force on Child Protection.
  • Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), which provides employment protection for those who report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, so no one hesitates to make a report out of fear of losing a job.
  • House Bill 431, sponsored by Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon), which requires training for certain licensed or certified mandated reporters on how to identify and report suspected child abuse. Training requirements must be met to obtain or renew a license.
  • House Bill 436, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), which sets penalties for failure to report child abuse and designates attorneys who are affiliated with certain child-serving institutions as mandated reporters. The bill also provides for confidentiality protections.

Stay tuned to PPC for updates on more child protection bills we want to see enacted.

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More Child Protection Laws Signed

We wanted to share the good news that Gov. Tom Corbett signed three additional child protection bills into law earlier today, building on the work Pennsylvania has been done in recent months to better protect our kids.

The measures signed today include:

  • Senate Bill 24, sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), creates a statewide database to help authorities more efficiently and effectively receive and respond to reports of abuse and neglect.
  • House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Northampton), increases critical funding to expand the work of child advocacy centers (CACs) around the state, which provide investigation and treatment services to children who suffered sexual and other forms of abuse.
  • House Bill 89, sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), provides additional funding for CACs by repurposing unused Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) vehicle license plate funds. 

With these and other recently enacted child protection laws, state policymakers are demonstrating a commitment to keeping kids safe. Stay tuned to PPC for updates on more child protection bills we want to see enacted.

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