Report Shows Need for Reform to Better Support Outcomes for Children and Families in the Child Welfare System
In an effort to improve Pennsylvania’s child welfare system, the 11th annual State of Child Welfare report released by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) – a five-year analysis of how Pennsylvania fares with practices around child safety, placement and permanency – outlines policy recommendations aimed at improving the system and includes county-level data and statewide and geographic trends. In addition, the report analyzes racial disparity and disproportionality across the child population.
“As our communities begin to rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be important for everyone working in the child welfare sector to collaborate to improve the system for the betterment of the children it serves,” said Kari King, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. “Our recommendations are necessary and within reach, and we are committed to sharing data and to working together on system improvements so that it supports our children and families to the best of its ability.”
Key recommendations within the 2020 State of Child Welfare: Protecting Children and Promoting Stable Families in Pennsylvania include:
- Investing in a prevention-based system that focuses on connecting families to services to mitigate the need for formal child welfare involvement. General Protective Services (GPS) referrals outpace Child Protective Services (CPS) referrals by four times, making it more important than ever to promote increased community-based supports and primary prevention initiatives that will help stabilize and support families. In 2018, more than 187,000 children and families were served through in-home services through the child welfare system.
- Continuing to build upon efforts to increase children being placed with kin, because children do best with someone they know and trust. From October 2018 through September 2019, the report found approximately 24,665 children were served in the foster care system. While there was a 7 percent increase since 2015 in the number of children placed in a family-based setting, more youth are placed in non-family homes than in kinship care.
- Identifying services and appropriate placement options for children and youth with complex needs. The report notes one of the primary struggles identified by county child welfare agencies is placement of children and youth who have multiple complex co-occurring issues. These may include a combination of runaway behaviors, self-harming, mental health diagnoses, behavioral health concerns, sexually reactive behaviors, delinquency and intellectual disabilities, among others.
- Improving outcomes for transition age youth, or children age 14 to 21 who are placed in out-of-home care through the child welfare system. In 2019, approximately 2,182 children experienced re-entry into the placement system, and nearly 50 percent were transition age youth, the report shows. Children who re-enter the foster care system are less likely to be placed in a family-based setting as compared to first-time entries, and these rates have been increasing in the last five years. To make a successful transition to adulthood, all children need a safe environment, connections to family and supportive adults, and opportunities to gain skills related to education, employment and adult living.
- Using the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) as a roadmap for COVID-19 recovery, specifically building and sustaining an evidence-based system, increasing opportunities for kinship and family-based care and focusing on older youth. Although the state received approval to delay opting into the federal law from the originally planned date of October 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, work to comply with its provisions continues and stakeholders must collaboratively partner with the state to ensure that implementation is done with fidelity.
- Ensuring a strong, qualified, and retained child welfare workforce because high turnover impacts child and family outcomes. Caseworkers and service provider staff enter the field with the goal to work directly with children and families, and to ensure safety, promote family stability, and provide permanency. However, most of the time spent working a case is primarily on administrative duties, including significant amounts of paperwork, and less time directly interacting with clients. Additionally, workers experience high level of trauma coupled with significant public scrutiny.
In addition, the report recommends the state and counties undertake a collaborative approach to understanding ways to improve racial disparity and disproportionality within the child welfare system. The report found that Black children and children of multiple races were represented in foster care at more than two times their rate in the general population. And, Black children were more than five times more likely to re-enter foster care than White children.
“Right now, children and youth face unique challenges, but we cannot ignore those that existed before the pandemic,” King said. “We hope this report spurs advancements in policy, legislative and fiscal reform to better support outcomes for children and families involved with the system.”
Click here for the full report and data tables.