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Annual State of Child Welfare in PA Shows Uncertainty for Children, Families and Child Welfare System Amid Pandemic

Today we released our 12th annual State of Child Welfare report, which raises concerns about the need to strengthen the child welfare system as it uses data from 2020 – only the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – that shows decreases in child protective services reporting and the number of children placed in foster care statewide.

In 2020 there were 32,919 CPS reports, which was a 22% decline in reports from 2019, but the substantiation of reports was the highest in the last five years, with 14% of reports being investigated and found to be true. Notably, stay-at-home orders, moving to virtual learning, and less contact with medical professionals created a significant decrease in mandated reporting trends during the year for which the most recent data is available.

While substantiation rates did increase, data from 2021 will be significant to see how trends shift as schools resumed in-person instruction. There was subsequently more interaction between mandated reporters, such as teachers, with children and families. We anticipate the 2021 data will show an increase in referrals and a potential decrease in substantiation as the system struggles to respond to the needs of children experiencing abuse and neglect during an unprecedented time of crisis.

In 2020, 21,689 children were served in the Pennsylvania foster care system, a 12% decrease in the total population from the prior year.

With overall reductions in placement, one could assume this translates to better interventions on the front-end of an investigation and correspondingly stabilizes families. However, when we look at the totality of the data from the start of an investigation through placement, the overall reduction correlates to the challenges we know were present due to the pandemic. Again, fewer referrals being made by mandated reporters means fewer occasions to identify abuse leading to placement.

See the complete list of policy recommendations in the 2021 State of Child Welfare: Navigating the Uncertainty of the Pandemic to Strengthen the System. There is an excellent opportunity to strategize legislative and administrative policy that focuses on better primary prevention, increasing opportunities for placement in a family-based setting, supporting our transition age youth, and adequately supporting the system and workforce. Additionally, it is incumbent upon the Department of Human Services to increase data measures and produce them publicly and in real-time.

Together, all stakeholders can be a part of advancing system change, and we thank those who contributed to this year's report:

  • Rick Azzaro, Executive Director, VOCE
  • Brian Bornman, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators
  • Terry Clark, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Families
  • Kathleen Creamer, Managing Attorney, Community Legal Services
  • Angela Liddle, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance
  • Karissa Phelps, Stoneleigh Fellow, Temple Legal Aid

Congress Staves Off Funding Crisis; Debt Ceiling Debate & Build Back Consideration Remain

Last week, federal officials worked to pass a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps annual spending in place to fund the federal government through February 18, 2022. The CR passed the House on a largely party-line vote of 221-212, and the Senate passed the CR with a bi-partisan 69-28 vote despite disagreement over federal vaccine mandates. While legislative passage and presidential approval of the CR was welcome news, there is a looming battle over extending the federal debt ceiling limit, which experts estimate will be reached on December 15, 2021. The U.S. House and Senate are scheduled to be in Washington, D.C. this week.

In addition to raising the debt ceiling, the Senate needs to take up the Build Back Better Act (BBBA), which passed the House just before Thanksgiving. Even though the conventional wisdom is that Centrist Democrats will trim down the current iteration of the $1.9 trillion BBBA in the Senate, the bill contains the following provisions PPC supports and is prioritizing in the final passage of the bill:

  • Child Care:  Provides over $100 billion to support high-quality child care during the first three years and such sums in the following three years via a new child care and early learning entitlement program to provide high-quality, affordable child care for children ages birth to five, increase wages for the early childhood workforce, and invest in child care quality and supply (including facilities). Caps families' child care copayments to ensure that no eligible family pays more than 7% of their income on child care by creating a sliding scale fee system.
  • Pre-k:  Provides over $18 billion during the first three years and such sums as may be necessary for the following three years for the Health and Human Services Secretary in collaboration with the Education Secretary to carry out a universal, high-quality, free, inclusive, and mixed delivery preschool program. Eligible providers include licensed child care programs; Head Start grantees; Local Education Agencies; or a consortium of those entities. Requires states to develop and implement state preschool standards if not already in place and ensure all eligible providers meet such standards.
  • Health Care:  
  • Authorizes permanent funding for CHIP.
  • Requires 12 months of continuous Medicaid and CHIP eligibility to postpartum women.
  • Requires 12 months of continuous eligibility to children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.
  • Allows states to smoothly transition out of the coverage requirements put in place during the public health emergency.
  • Provides over $1 billion in grant funding to various programs addressing social determinants of health in maternal and postpartum health, reducing racial/ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes, growing, and diversifying the public health workforce – including doulas – for maternal health, serving maternal mental health needs, and improving maternal morbidity/mortality outcomes.
  • Provides $5 billion to address lead paint and other health hazards in the United States' housing stock and $970 million to make grants under the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to replace service lines that contain lead.
  • Career and Technical Education:  Provides $700 million over six years to carry out activities related to Career and Technical Education, of which $600 million is provided for state grants authorized under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 and $100 million is provided for innovation and modernization grants authorized under that Act.

The BBBA is being considered through the budget reconciliation process, meaning that it only needs 51 votes in the Senate to be passed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is on record as saying he would like to see an affirmative vote on the bill before the Christmas recess. Keep up with the latest track of the BBBA, and PPC will continue to provide updates on federal activity.


Childhood Begins at Home Event Brings together DHS Acting Secretary, Three Evidence-Based Models

Last week, Childhood Begins at Home hosted a virtual event with Meg Snead, Acting Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, for a roundtable discussion about the benefits of voluntary, evidence-based home visiting and the need for greater state investments. During the event, Snead and Tracey Campanini, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Child Development & Early Learning, heard from Sheila Derr, Family Center Manager of the Tri County Community Action-Harrisburg and a parent participant, as well as representatives from Early Head Start, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers. The mother spoke about how her home visitor is like a member of her family, having helped her be a successful parent and one of her children with literacy. Francis Chardo, Dauphin County District Attorney, and Sean M. McCormack, Cumberland County Chief Deputy District Attorney, spoke about how the programs strengthen communities.

Bruce Clash, State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, moderated the event, and PPC president and CEO Kari King noted that the one-time funds the state received through the ARP do not replace recurring funding in the Community-Based Family Center line or the Nurse-Family Partnership line of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning that is needed to serve additional pregnant women, young children, and families. The campaign is asking for an increase in state dollars in the upcoming FY 2022-23 budget, noting the past two cycles have seen these lines flat-funded.  


Data made possible by the Pennsylvania KIDS COUNT Data Center, home to more than 130 child well-being indicators related to education, poverty, health, and youth risk factors.


In Case You Missed It...

  • The Office of Children, Youth, and Families issued two updated procedural clarifications. A special transmittal entitled "Unknown Specific Start and End Dates for Incidents of Child Abuse" establishes a standard and provides guidance for investigating agencies to adhere to when the specific start and end date of an incident(s) of child abuse are unknown. Additionally, a policy clarification was issued regarding what original documents must be maintained in a paper format when an electronic system is used to keep records by public and private agencies.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued 75 housing vouchers to Philadelphia DHS to support older foster youth transitioning out of the child welfare system and to independence.  Under the "Fostering Youth to Independence" program, these vouchers will provide up to three years of housing. They will directly assist with ensuring transition age youth do not exit the system to homelessness. 
  • A recent article in Spotlight PA, “A staffing crisis at PA child care centers is upending family routines and slowing the economic recovery,” highlights another crisis that this pandemic has shed more light on- workforce shortages in child care centers which have left families unable to access care for their children and businesses unable to serve children at full capacity. 
  • Ready Nation: Council for a Strong America recently released a new report, Home-Based Child Care: A Key to Keeping the Pennsylvania Workforce and Economy Strong, that highlights the need of Pennsylvania policymakers to continue to make investments and improvements to the state's home-based child care sector to ensure families have options to access high-quality care for their children.
  • Pennsylvania home visiting programs were highlighted in a recent episode of the Home Visiting in Action podcast. The podcast discusses Parent Cafes which is a model which is planned and facilitated by parent leaders to engage them in the process and care.
  • Georgetown University Center for Children and Families released a new brief explaining the provisions for Medicaid, CHIP, and private insurance included in the recently passed Build Back Better Act.
  • Pennsylvania's public education lawsuit resumed testimony after Thanksgiving break. The petitioners continued to call witnesses, including the former deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and educators from the Greater Johnstown and Springfield Township School Districts. Updates on witness testimony, including links to watch, are available and updated throughout the trial. 

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
200 North Third Street 13th Floor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
(717) 236-5680

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