HARRISBURG, PA — The Wolf Administration recently announced Pennsylvania’s full implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, prioritizing providing services to children and families in the least restrictive manner and with their families as much as safely possible.
“The Family First Prevention Services Act dovetails with longtime goals of both the Wolf Administration and our county-level partners across Pennsylvania. The implementation of our plan will enhance the impact of work we were already doing to strengthen families and keep children safe with their families, in their homes, whenever and however possible,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead.
The Family First Prevention Services Act give states the option of using federal funds to administer their child welfare systems differently – and for the first time to utilize federal funding that supports certain evidence-based mental health prevention and treatment, substance use prevention and treatment, and in-home parenting skill-based programs that are delivered to eligible children, youth, and families to help prevent the placement of a child into out-of-home care. In the event placement outside the home occurs, the law directs federal funding toward family-like settings or other specialized settings that are best suited to a child’s individual needs.
Considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve outcomes for children in foster care and their families. For example, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of children in foster care who are placed in kinship care with family. As of April 2021, 44 percent of children in foster care were placed with relatives – compared to 31.5 percent in 2015.
Pennsylvania has also steadily decreased its use of congregate settings – such as institutions or group homes – in Pennsylvania’s foster care system. In 2015, 17.1 percent of Pennsylvania children in foster care were in congregate settings. By 2019, that dropped to 12.7 percent. The overall number of children entering foster care is also on the decline. Between 2019 and 2020, 2,797 fewer children entered foster care. Currently, there are about 14,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania.
2020 Child Abuse Report
In strengthening the child welfare system through a greater focus on prevention and use of evidence-based programs and services, Pennsylvania aims to reduce instances of child abuse and neglect. This week, DHS released the 2020 annual Child Protective Services Report, which includes statewide and county-level data relevant to the child welfare system in the previous year.
The total number of Child Protective Services (CPS) reports received dropped about 22 percent between 2019 and 2020. CPS reports are reports of incidents that meet the definition of child abuse contained in the Child Protective Services Law. While the total number of CPS reports fell significantly, the total number of substantiated reports fell slightly — from 4,865 in 2019 to 4,593 in 2020. These are the CPS reports that – after investigation – indicated that child abuse had in fact occurred.
In terms of overall sources of the reports from 2019 to 2020, Pennsylvania saw a predictable drop in reports from school employees — from 12,990 in 2019 to 5,780 in 2020. However, reports from permissive reporters – those who, by law, do not have to report suspected child abuse — remained at almost the exact same level as 2019.
Sadly, Pennsylvania saw significant increases in both child fatalities and child near fatalities substantiated as the result of child abuse between 2019 and 2020. In 2019, 51 children died and 93 children nearly died as the result of child abuse. In 2020, 73 children died and 115 children nearly died as a result of child abuse.
“Pennsylvania’s child welfare system did not stop or slow down at any time during 2020. ChildLine remained fully operational. County and DHS caseworkers continued investigating reports. Families continued receiving services they needed,” Acting Secretary Snead said. “In all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, child welfare workers as well as mandated and permissive reporters adapted to a changed world so families could continue to receive support and children can grow up safely and cared for. The value of their work is immeasurable, and I want to say thank you on behalf of the Wolf Administration and the commonwealth.”
To learn more about Family First and how to report potential child abuse or neglect, visit www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov.
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