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 that 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 that 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:
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."
PPC issued its first annual "State of Child Welfare" report in 2009 as a way to educate and monitor, through the use of data, how well Pennsylvania's child welfare system is performing in meeting the needs of children and families impacted by the system. In past years, the report compared data from one year to the next, but this year's report provides a five-year perspective on the performance of the child welfare system to better monitor long-term progress towards the goal of providing safe, stable and permanent families for all children in Pennsylvania.
The 2014 State of Child Welfare report, along with county-level child welfare statistics, can be found at porchlightproject.org.