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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.

Former Foster Youth are Working to Improve Foster Care

If you’re looking for ways to improve the foster care system, doesn’t it make sense to hear from former foster youth?

That’s the idea behind a unique internship program run by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Each year, the CCAI invites former foster youth to be a part of its Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program® to help raise awareness among federal policymakers about the foster care system. Their work includes issuing policy recommendations that are released at a Congressional briefing and shared with child welfare advocates nationwide.

This year’s report – Powerful Voice: Sharing Our Stories to Reform Child Welfare – includes recommendations from a dozen former foster youth. Some of the recommendations touch on areas in PPC’s child welfare policy work, including addressing barriers to permanency, better aligning foster care funding with desired child and family outcomes, and improving opportunities and outcomes for older youth who are aging out of foster care.

As the report notes: “We have found that when policymakers hear direct experiences of those affected by child welfare policy, they become engaged in this issue and work to bring about legislative improvements in an effort to ensure each child has their right to a family realized.”

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‘Family First’ Moves Forward

As part of our efforts to improve the child welfare system, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children has been working on reducing the use of institution-based foster care in favor of family-based care for Pennsylvania’s children and youth.

The federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which was approved by the U.S. House in June, will help towards this goal. The act makes needed and important reforms to many federal child welfare financing mechanisms to support prevention efforts and reduce congregate care placements for foster youth.

PPC, along with many other organizations across the county, expressed support for the legislation and we thank the members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation (particularly U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly who was an original co-sponsor) for their support of the measure.

Looking ahead, once approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law, states will quickly be tasked with implementation of the Family First Ace. PPC will actively work with the state Department of Human Services to monitor effective implementation, including any potential impact to state and county children and youth budgets.

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A Positive Shift in Foster Care Placements

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.”

Despite the proven benefits of family-based care, about 1 in 6 foster care placements in Pennsylvania last year involved congregate care. While Pennsylvania has made progress in recent years towards greater use of family-based settings, the most recent national data placed Pennsylvania 41st among states in efforts to move way from congregate care.

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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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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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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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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