HARRISBURG, Pa., March 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania has made notable progress in recent years to reduce the number of children living in foster care and provide more in-home services, trends the commonwealth should strive to continue as new child abuse laws take effect, according to a new report from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC).
While the "2014 State of Child Welfare" report finds the commonwealth has experienced several positive trends in the past five years as it works to improve its child welfare system, more work remains.
"As state leaders continue their efforts to enact new laws to better protect our kids, our child welfare system needs to be in a position to effectively handle the potential increase of children and families that need help," PPC President and CEO Joan Benso said. "The family-focused child welfare strategies Pennsylvania has been using in recent years are working, and we need to build on them."
Among the positive five-year trends highlighted in the "State of Child Welfare" report:
- The number of Pennsylvania children served in foster care declined by 26 percent from 2009 to 2013, while the number of children receiving in-home services increased by 11 percent in the same period. In-home service is a more proactive, less costly alternative to foster placement.
- Children in foster care are increasingly more likely to be placed in family-type settings, which are preferred to institutional or group home settings known as "congregate care." In 2009, about 26 percent of foster placements involved congregate care, but the figure declined to less than 20 percent by 2013.
- Pennsylvania continues to make steady progress in finding permanent homes for foster children, which means fewer children and youth are leaving foster care for circumstances in which they might have no family to depend upon.
Looking ahead, Pennsylvania needs to build on its effective strategies to assure permanent families for more children in foster care, but we also need to continue working to better prevent, detect and respond to child abuse and neglect, according to Benso.
"We must pay attention to both sides of this effort – making sure we do everything possible to deter abuse and neglect, while also doing all we can to help those who, despite our best efforts, fall victim to it," Benso said.
In 2013, Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly worked together to enact several new laws to better protect children. These measures expanded the definitions of "child abuse" and "perpetrator" and strengthened child abuse investigations through the use of multi-disciplinary investigative teams. Other child protection bills are pending, including measures to repeal a separate standard of "student abuse," eliminate "chain of command" child abuse reporting in institutions and bolster the use of confidential and secure electronic submission and dissemination of child abuse reports to improve the investigation process.
"State officials have done some great work in recent months to better protect our kids, but we have to remember the work that remains is just as crucial as the achievements we've already seen," Benso said. "We can't be satisfied with our work until every piece of child protection legislation the General Assembly has been working on reaches the governor's desk."
This year's "State of Child Welfare" report provides, for the first time ever, a five-year perspective on the performance of the child welfare system. Prior reports offered year-to-year comparisons. The report, along with county-level child welfare statistics, can be found at porchlightproject.org.
SOURCE Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children