Pennsylvania's court officials kicked off National Foster Care Month by touting a promising statistic: the commonwealth's foster care population has declined by about one-third in recent years.
The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts said there are now about 14,000 foster children, compared to 21,000 six years ago. State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer attributes the steep decline to the commonwealth's stepped-up efforts to find safe, permanent homes for kids in foster care.
"Our courts and child welfare agencies have collaborated and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of abused and neglected children and their families, but there is much more work to do," Justice Baer said at a Children's Roundtable Summit last week. "As we continue our efforts to safely reduce the number of children in foster care, we will focus more on the mental well-being of children and strive to minimize the level of trauma experienced by those children who, through no fault of their own, are placed under court supervision."
The commonwealth continues to build on this progress with efforts such as the full implementation of the federal Fostering Connections law, which will promote adoption and help older youth in foster care while generating more state and county savings and tapping into millions in new federal funding. (You might recall the state enacted legislation last summer to fully implement Fostering Connections.)
Pennsylvania also is benefitting from a federal waiver regarding its use of federal funding used for foster care placement – a waiver that allows counties to further pursue effective strategies to reduce the use of foster care, shorten the time spent in foster care and serve more young people in home and community-based foster care settings as opposed to institutional settings (often known as congregate care).
Looking ahead, we also can expand the use of effective child welfare strategies known as family finding and family conferencing to help keep kids out of foster care.
Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction when it comes to foster care, so let's make sure we keep our momentum.
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