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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.

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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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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New Law Will Help Foster Youth

As 2015 draws to a close, we’re happy to note another victory this year in our efforts to help Pennsylvania’s kids.

Gov. Wolf this week signed a new law (Act 94 of 2015) that will limit 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.

Unfortunately, APPLA is a permanency goal that often results in long-term foster care instead of a permanent home. As PPC noted earlier this year, 80 percent of children and youth with a goal of APPLA who leave foster care do not achieve permanency, and a vast majority “age out” of foster care without ever finding a permanent family to rely on.

PPC knows we can do better by these kids, and that’s why we advocated for changes that limit APPLA’s use to youth age 16 and older and encourage efforts to identify supportive adults willing to be involved in the child’s life. These adults might not necessarily be ready to adopt a child, but they can offer a supportive safety net for foster youth as they make the challenging transition to adulthood.

We were happy to see those changes become law this week, and we’re looking forward to doing more great work with the commonwealth as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services explores alternatives to APPLA.

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Latest Win for Foster Youth

There are some positive changes coming for Pennsylvania children in foster care. Legislation (HB 1603) awaiting the governor’s signature will limit 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. But APPLA is a permanency goal that all too often doesn’t actually result in a permanent home for a child in foster care.

Given the lack of permanency afforded by APPLA, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children strongly supported changes that not only limit APPLA’s use to youth age 16 and older, but also encourage efforts to identify supportive adults willing to be involved in the child’s life.

These adults might not necessarily have a permanent home to offer, but they provide the moral and emotional support every child deserves, and the foster youth retains the freedom to decide how involved that adult will be in his or her life. Establishing such connections can create a supportive safety net foster youth can turn to during their remaining years in foster care and once they age out of the system.

This legislation - unanimously approved by the state House and Senate - is a great step toward limiting the use of APPLA, and we look forward to having Gov. Wolf sign it into law in the next few days. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also is taking steps to further explore alternatives to APPLA and plans to report back to the General Assembly with recommendations within the next several months.

PPC will continue our advocacy on reducing, and possibly eliminating, APPLA through this process. To learn more about our public policy work in child welfare, visit our website.

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Ready to Change Someone's World?

As we continue to celebrate November as National Adoption Month (and Nov. 21 as National Adoption Day), here's a reminder of the power someone like you can have in forever changing the life of any one of the 1,900 Pennsylvania children who are waiting in foster care to be adopted ...

 

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PA Needs Adoptive Parents

November is National Adoption Month, a month dedicated to building awareness about the more than 108,000 children across the country who are waiting in foster care to be adopted.

Pennsylvania historically has been a national leader in maintaining high numbers of adoptions from foster care each year. Currently, in fact, the commonwealth leads all other states for its timeliness of adoptions from foster care, according to data from the federal Administration for Children and Families. We’re also first in the nation in finding permanency for children who have been in foster care for more than two years.

While it’s great to see Pennsylvania stand out as a national leader in helping kids find their “forever families,” there’s plenty of room to improve on our efforts. On any given day in Pennsylvania, 1,900 children in foster care are awaiting adoption.

If you’re wondering what it takes to be an adoptive parent, it’s probably less daunting than you think. You don’t have to be married or wealthy to be an adoptive parent. And there often are forms of financial help available, including tax credits, for those who adopt.

To learn more about adoption in Pennsylvania, visit adoptpakids.org.

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Supporting Permanency for Foster Youth

One of our public policy goals at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is to ensure all children in foster care receive the services and supports they need to help them be part of a permanent family.

As part of that goal, we are pleased to be working with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth, and Families, as part of a workgroup related to the implementation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (HR 4980). This effort is bringing together youth, child welfare agencies, experts and stakeholders at the state and local levels to come up with recommendations to ensure Pennsylvania’s successful and timely implementation of this new federal law. Many provisions of the law have a Jan. 1, 2016, implementation deadline.

Effective implementation will support the safety, permanency and well-being of children and youth served by the child welfare system in several ways, including supporting permanency for children and youth in foster care by instituting improvements to the case plan and case review system.

Members of the workgroup are organized into two subcommittees, with one focusing on the provisions in the legislation that speak to permanency and improving opportunities for children and youth in foster care, and the other focusing on the provisions in the federal law that speak to the identification, prevention and reporting of sex trafficking. PPC is focusing its advocacy efforts in the permanency subcommittee, specifically on limiting the use of the permanency goal, Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA).

We’re pleased to be a part of this important effort that will better to lives of many of Pennsylvania’s children and PPC will work diligently through the next few months with both the state legislature and administration to bring these meaningful changes to fruition.

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Meeting the Health Needs of Foster Youth

Children in foster care often face more significant health issues than their peers – issues that can follow them into adulthood.

Many children are placed in foster care because of neglect, physical or emotional abuse, parental substance abuse or abandonment. These are issues that often trigger or exacerbate chronic physical, developmental and/or mental health disorders. Research indicates about 3 out of 5 children in foster care have at least one chronic medical condition and one-fourth suffer from three or more conditions.

To better help meet the medical needs of these children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued a policy statement, “Health Care Issues for Children and Adolescents in Foster Care and Kinship Care,” urging more intensive pediatric, mental health, developmental, and educational services for this vulnerable population.

Among the AAP recommendations:

  • Every child and adolescent entering foster care should have an initial health screening within 72 hours of removal, with some children - including those under 3 or dealing with complex chronic health conditions - receiving an initial health screening within 24 hours.
  • A comprehensive health assessment within 30 days of entry into foster care. 
  • Periodic health care visits, ranging from bimonthly to annually depending on age, for all children and youth in foster care.

The AAP notes – and we agree – that pediatricians have a critical role in ensuring the well-being of children in foster care.

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Fostering Academic Success for Foster Youth

September is Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide recognition of the connection between school attendance and academic achievement.

Kids in foster care often face school attendance challenges due to factors outside their control, including unexpected moves to different schools or districts, missing academic records, or a lack of timely sharing of information among school districts. Combine these issues with other challenges foster youth face – dealing with separation from friends and family, living in a new household with new rules and perhaps going without their favorite belongings – and you can see how school performance can be negatively affected.

The federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 included requirements for child welfare agencies and schools to remove barriers to timely education and keep kids in their same schools whenever appropriate. Since the law’s enactment, federal officials have urged child welfare and education agencies to work together to develop policies and procedures to ensure both educational stability and the appropriate school enrollment of foster youth. (More information about the Fostering Connections Act and a letter to state school directors and child welfare agencies is available here.)

At the state level, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly could help this effort through statutory changes to promote educational stability for this vulnerable population. These changes could include giving the courts and child welfare agencies increased flexibility to determine the best school for a child in foster care to attend, or calling on schools to enroll these children more promptly so their learning is less disrupted.

Children who enter foster care deserve an education free from unnecessary delays and other challenges that can impact attendance. But with 500 school districts and 67 county children and youth agencies in the commonwealth, they can get lost in the shuffle through no fault of their own. There is more we can and should do to help children in foster care attend school and achieve academically.

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Ending Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth

About 25,000 youth across the country age out of foster care each year without permanent family connections. Between one-third and one-fifth of these youth will become homeless within a year of exiting foster care. 

Youth Fostering Change - a youth engagement program of the Juvenile Law Center - has proposed ways to address homelessness and promote permanent connections among aged out foster youth, including some strategies that PPC has among our public policy goals. These include:

  • Ensure all children in foster care receive services and supports that will help them be part of a permanent family;
  • Limit use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as a court-ordered permanency goal;
  • Strengthen and require ongoing permanency services for all children and youth in foster care, regardless of their court-ordered permanency goal, until permanency is achieved;
  • Advance recruitment, licensing and retention policies that increase use of family-based foster care placements, particularly with relatives and kin;
  • Fully implement requirements to search for and identify extended family and kin for children served by the child welfare system; and
  • Fully implement extended permanency subsidies and foster care services until age 21.

You can read Youth Fostering Change’s new report, “A Home of Our Own,” and watch a related video here

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