The POCC was launched in 2003, by a handful of advocates and child-focused organizations intent on securing state constitutional changes providing child victims with testimony options so that they could testify outside of face-to-face court room confrontations, without having to sit in plain view of the alleged perpetrator.
As a result of the leadership and passionate commitment of the POCC to protect Pennsylvania’s children, Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly approved two amendments to the state’s constitution in November 2003 assuring better protections for this state’s victimized children and youth.
Since then the POCC has continued to impact child testimony issues, but has also become the forum for a wider discussion about preventing child abuse and advancing reform-minded outcome driven child welfare strategies including:
- How do we build political will to elevate investment in child abuse prevention, including efforts focused on family strengthening;
- To what degree were child abuse investigations multi-disciplinary and child-focused and where they were not what were the impediments;
- How does Pennsylvania’s differential response system to child abuse impact the timing, assessment and initial interventions afforded with a goal of immediately assuring child safety;
- How was the Commonwealth’s non-compliance with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) undercutting access to needed prevention dollars; and
- How do we improve the quality of legal representation and advocacy for children, youth and families
Pennsylvania’s network of advocates and private and public child-centered organizations dedicated to preventing child abuse, strengthening families, and directly engaged in the delivery of child welfare services is comprehensive.
Despite the rich array of resources and organizations existing, the extraordinary expertise of child advocates — the Commonwealth remains a place where individuals and organizations often are disconnected from each other’s work and advocacy strategies.
The POCC filled a void long identified as existing, but never remedied becoming the vehicle where diverse stakeholders could be educated together using that mutual education to effectuate systems improvements and policy change.
Through the years, the POCC has evolved into the leading statewide forum for shared information and networking as well as coordinated agenda setting and advocacy.
The POCC also serves as a forum about the extended violence outside of the statutory parameters of defined child abuse children are exposed to, but the POCC’s policy priorities intentionally connect to opportunities likely to reduce the exposure to/incidence of child abuse within a child’s own home/family (or subsequent out-of-home placement).
Among the highlights of the POCC’s accomplishments beyond the child testimony efforts:
- Partnered with key stakeholders to grow the public and private investment in proven prevention-focused voluntary home visiting services like Nurse Family Partnerships (NFP).
- Built the political will to ensure that Pennsylvania finally became compliant with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) — ending our distinction as the last state in the country to do so. Compliance requires the Commonwealth to create a limited number of Citizen Review Panels, triggers eligibility for a pool of federal CAPTA prevention dollars and Children’s Justice Act (CJA) funds to improve the county-based multidisciplinary response to child abuse reports.
- Spearheaded a statewide campaign to create a Children’s Ombudsperson through the enactment of state legislation. The POCC’s advocacy has resulted, thus far, in a legislative hearing; introduced legislation as well as the creation of a DPW convened workgroup.
- Researched and issued analysis of child fatalities in the Commonwealth linked to child abuse comparing information that could be found via the public record and media reports with the state’s annual child abuse report. The analysis revealed complications in the state’s reporting of child fatalities resulting in a reworking of the state’s annual child abuse report to reflect a more accurate and timely reporting about child fatalities. Additionally, the POCC secured legislation requiring statewide standards about county-level reviews of child fatalities and near fatalities when child abuse is suspected. The enacted legislation also required public reporting and release of the reports prepared by county children and youth agencies and DPW when a child dies or nearly dies as a result of suspected child abuse.
- The POCC worked with our partners in the advocacy community as well as law enforcement to close several loopholes in the state’s Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) particularly those that permitted abuse/violence against a child to go unreported to DPW officials (and at times law enforcement) because it did not meet the threshold of “abuse” in the law because the act was committed by a non family member/direct caregiver.
- Represented the viewpoint of child advocates on the Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) workgroup about the financing of child welfare services in Pennsylvania particularly how the state should direct its resources to safely keep children at home, reduce out-of-home placement, connect children to family-like placements when abuse dictates removal and that promote permanency for children. The POCC utilized its seat at the table to emphasize child safety urging financing strategies that would result in greater state reimbursement for the services that were focused on primary prevention. The POCC also sought greater public reporting requirements and accountability regarding the spending of public funds on child welfare services so that better analysis could occur about the dollars spent with outcomes achieved for children and families.