Policy & Practice Update
Created March 10, 2010
The Policy Update is provided as notice of potential child protection related legislation that is being considered in Harrisburg or DC. This update is NOT reflective of legislation which has earned the endorsement of the POCC.
CHILDREN’S OMBUDSPERSON — On Monday, the Harrisburg Patriot News ran an editorial — Children in trouble: What’s happened to the ombudsman’s office? The Patriot—News has referenced advocates’ call for a Children Ombudsperson in previous work, but they stepped up their spotlight and call to action on Monday’s editorial page. The elevated forum was spurred, in part, by the on—going work of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice and the child—abuse fatality of a York County child. The child’s death has sparked an international firestorm because he was adopted from Russia and at some point was removed from and then returned to the home of his adoptive parents by the county children and youth agency.
The PN editorial recognized that the Children’s Ombudsperson would be enlisted as a place of independence where investigations might be launched when questions are raised about the action or inaction within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The editorial referenced the active discussions and effort to produce a consensus piece of legislation on—going since 2008 at a Department of Public Welfare (DPW) convened workgroup as well as legislation introduced by Bucks County Representative Scott Petri (House Bill 788).
The editorial said that the concept of a public/private initiative &lqduo;deserves serious attention” — a strong discussion point at the DPW table and a concept endorsed as credible by the POCC.
The PN editorial rightfully reminds that as Pennsylvania has been analyzing and talking about the value of an Ombudsperson other states, including most recently Colorado, have acted and, more to the point, Pennsylvania children and families have already paid a price for the absence of concrete legislative action.
In addition to the PN editorial, POCC’s guest opinion was published on February 1st in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
CHILD FATALITY/NEAR FATALITY — ACT 33 IMPLEMENTATION — On December 3rd, the PA House Children and Youth Committee convened an educational hearing related to Act 33 of 2008 (the child abuse related fatality/near fatality legislation that was a POCC priority). The hearing was an attempt to gain insight from DPW and the counties about implementation of the law and to what degree such implementation has met the expected outcomes most notably the engagement of multidisciplinary review teams and greater pubic reporting and transparency.
Since last fall, POCC’s own experience trying to secure county level protocols has been challenging resulting in production of such reports only from Philadelphia.
While county children and youth agencies (outside of Philadelphia DHS) have not yet released any of the required fatality or near—fatality reports, DPW responded to a POCC recommendation when on February 18th it began to publish on its website 2009 child fatality and near fatality reports. The posted reports include those fatalities/near fatalities through June 2009, except where the District Attorney has certified that the report should not be released to the public (certification that occurred for twelve fatalities through June).
The public release of the DPW generated reports is an important step forward, but not surprisingly it has also generated a number of additional questions, the need for additional clarification about the Act 33 process at both the county and state level including:
- As in prior years there are child fatalities that can be documented via the media and/or coroner reports that appear to not be included in DPW’s list of children who died as a result of suspected child abuse. According to DPW’s list produced in mid—February, there were 69 child fatalities that were investigated by DPW as suspected child abuse in 2009;
- Co—posting the county and DPW produced report (where both parties produce a report) so that a full analysis of the county and state level response to the fatality/near—fatality can be undertaken as well as full compliance with Act 33;
- The interpretation, practice of the law’s requirement that DPW undertake a review and issue a report for all fatalities, near fatalities linked to suspected child abuse whereas the counties are to review incidents and issue reports where abuse is indicated or a determination has not occurred within thirty days;
- How are counties responding to the law’s requirements, who have they engaged in their teams, what protocols are they utilizing; and
- Some enumeration of a child fatality/near fatality (even with maintained confidentiality) for tracking purposes while the DA certification is in effect.
As a reminder of how important reviewing child fatalities/near fatalities are to informing our shared responsibility to prevent child abuse and fatalities into the future, this week Allegheny County issued an inaugural ActionAlert to provide parents, human service workers and advocates with tangible tools to promote safe sleeping practices for infants. The alert and specific recommendation related to raising awareness about preventing unsafe sleeping practices for infants and toddlers under age one was a direct result of the county’s child fatality/near fatality review work required by Act 33 of 2008. Also this week WITF radio aired a piece on yet another hospital joining the National Cribs for Kids program.
Finally, on a related note, this week Children’s Defense Fund leader Marian Wright Edelman penned a post for the Huffington Post about the on—going work of Every Child Matters, the National District Attorneys Association, National Children’s Alliance and National Association of Social Workers to raise attention to the degree to which child abuse is proving lethal to America’s children and how the ultimate toll may not be fully known. Beyond the pursuit of more accurate data, these organizations have followed up their fall summit with a call on Congress to delve deeper and to build any effort to reauthorize the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) upon recommendations from that summit. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Bob Casey kicked off the fall summit and advocates are hoping his service on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will provide momentum for an effective CAPTA reauthorization.
HUMAN SERVICES CAMPAIGN — RADIO AD URGING FUNDING FOR PREVENTING/TREATING CHILD AB USE
SEIU Local 668 has launched a Human Services Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to educate the public about the need to have a final enacted state budget &lqduo;that fully funds human services.” The campaign seeks to secure a state budget process (and outcome) that insulates services critical to vulnerable children, youth and families while also addressing the issue of how Pennsylvania raises the revenue to fund essential state (county delivered) services.
As part of the campaign SEIU Local will be airing radio ads across the Commonwealth. SEIU Local 668 sought to have an ads dedicated to preventing and treating child abuse. The ad features a children and youth caseworker reminding the audience about how tough the economy has been on families — how hard families are struggling to keep a roof overhead, food on the table and to deal with an extraordinary amount of stress. She talks about how her job is to assure the safety of children — a job complicated by rising caseloads and waiting lists for services. She enlists the public to join with her &lqduo;to care about the safety of children” urging voters to call state legislators and &lqduo;demand they invest in services that prevent and treat child abuse because a child in pain shouldn’t have to wait.” The ad is a nice reminder that protecting children, strengthening families is a shared responsibility. If you can’t locate the ad on SEIU Local 668’s website and want to listen to it email email@example.com and I’ll send it along.
The campaign and radio ad begins running as the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is expected to take up Governor Rendell’s proposed budget as embodied in House Bill 2279. The House is expected to cast a final (yet clearly initial) vote on a budget bill the week of March 22nd. The House’s advancement of the budget bill this week arrived as the Pennsylvania Revenue Department was again releasing revenue collection reports showing that revenue collections remain below projections. In fact, year—to—date General Fund collections are off by $476.7 million — 2.9 percent.
Finally here are a few reminders of how tough times remain for children and families:
- Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate rose in December to 8.9 percent. The state’s unemployment rate has increased by more than 4 percent since the recession’s onset in 2007.
- As of January, more than 1,554 million Pennsylvanians — 12.5 percent of the state’s population — were receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly Food Stamps);
- Enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program continues to climb — increasing by more than 12,000 over the past year to its current level of 196,220;
- Over 2.1 million citizens of the state (17.5 percent) are eligible for Medicaid — nearly 1.1 million of whom are children;
- Together, CHIP and Medicaid are covering about 44 percent of the Commonwealth’s children;
- Demand at local food banks and health centers has been staggering and reports of suspected child abuse and domestic violence homicides have increased over the last year.
EXTENDED STATE FISCAL RELIEF — ENHANCED FEDERAL MEDICAID RATE MOVING IN CONGRESS — State fiscal relief, including the temporary enhancement of the federal Medicaid match rate (the federal government picked up more of the costs for Medicaid as well as certain child welfare services) infused nearly $4 billion into Pennsylvania’s budget during a 27 month period (including the current fiscal year). An enhanced FMAP not only assured that children had access to health care even when mom or dad lost their paycheck, that children were safe (and at home) even as families experienced fiscal crisis, but also provided insulation to the entire state budget so that cuts to every department, in every service area did not need to occur (or become deeper).
Congress intended the relief to be temporary so it is set to expire in 2010 (before the end of the 2010—2011 state fiscal year) but Congress also expected that the Great Recession would have subsided and economic recovery would be well underway in 2010. The Recession is over but the rebound is far from a reality for Main Street families so it is appropriate and necessary for Congress to offer some additional temporary help to families.
A number of legislative vehicles in Congress have included a 6—month (2 quarters) extension of the enhanced FMAP — an extension that Governor Rendell presumed would be enacted by Congress thus infusing $800 million plus dollars into the state budget during 2010—2011. The absence of final action by Congress has had Republican lawmakers question whether it was &lqduo;prudent” for Rendell to build a budget based on resources that might not materialize. The criticism was among the reasons that Republicans in the House Appropriations Committee voted against moving the budget bill this week.
Today, however, a major hurdle to Rendell (and other governors) being assured that Congress is sending extra FMAP their way has been removed. The U.S. Senate voted to end debate, action on amendments to H.R. 4213 a bill to provide for extension of key provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) particularly unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and yes the enhanced FMAP. On Wednesday, the Senate first voted to end debate by a vote of 66 to 33. They then proceeded to a final vote giving the amended legislation approval by a vote of 62 to 36. The House and Senate have to hammer out a final bill to get to President Obama’s desk, but the big hurdle — the 60+ required vote in the Senate — has been overcome.
APRIL CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION EVENTS — You may recall that the POCC has long been part of a discussion of stakeholders about the value of/need for the creation of a chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics — PA Chapter became the &lqduo;provisional” chapter. Dr. Maria McColgan (Director, Child Protection Program, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children) has been tapped to serve as the Chair of the PCA—PA Advisory Board. The will use April to introduce the national and state &lqduo;Pinwheels for Prevention campaign” with the goal of rallying individuals and communities &lqduo;around the idea of insuring our children are raised in healthy, stable and nurturing environments.”
In addition to the good work of PCA—PA and its vision for April events, PA Family Support Alliance continues to serve as the lead entity of local and state organizations (as well as DPW) and advocates joining together in the Paint for Prevention efforts that have become so successful and fun for children, families, elected officials, public and private child welfare workers, and advocates. PFSA leads the work but ultimately it is an effort in need of group support (direct and in—direct).
On April 13th, a lunch time press conference to recognize national Child Abuse Prevention month will take place in Harrisburg. The event will follow a morning hearing of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, which is expected to focus on an overview of child welfare in Pennsylvania with presentations from PA Partnerships for Children and the Office of Children & Families in the Courts.
Advocates will be moved to act on behalf of children after hearing Victor Vieth speak at PinnacleHealth Children’s Resource Center’s annual Dinner with Friends Against Child Abuse on April 10th. Vieth’s call to action Unto the Third Generation: A Call to End Child Abuse in the United States within 120 Years — is a powerful reminder that while much work remains to better protect children it is a goal that can and must be reached. On April 9th, Vieth will join with Children’s Resource Center in a training focused on Medical Perspective of Child Death and Near Death Investigations, Child Abuse and Spirituality and Positive Impact of Multidisciplinary Collaborations. To learn more contact Kendra Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Center for Child Advocates will use their annual event to shine the spotlight on Governor Ed Rendell and a number of Distinguished Advocates including Shelly Yanoff from Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
Keeping with the importance of art therapy and play in children’s lives, in helping children victimized by sexual abuse heal, this year’s Vision of Hope Gala and Silent Auction occurs on April 17th. The invitation says &lqduo;Childhood vibrates with cheerful reds, sunny yellows, fresh, lively greens. Child sexual abuse strips away these colors and emotion, leaving in its wake a seemingly endless darkness. Yet there is great hope for victims of child sexual abuse. Through innovative programs such as children’s art and play therapy we can help restore hope, peace, and joy, glimmer by glimmer, hue by hue.”
April 27th will bring supporters of Pennsylvania’s Nurse—Family Partnership of Pennsylvania to Harrisburg to celebrate 10 years of NFP’s growth and positive outcomes for new parents and babies.
Also in April we’re expecting that a new campaign to help parents better learn how to soothe and calm a crying baby will be unveiled in Western Pennsylvania. The campaign will build upon the Hush Little Baby work already underway. This new element has A Child’s Place at Mercy partnering with Family Communications to produce a DVD that will be provided to all new parents so they have some practical ideas about how best to calm a crying baby.
ADVANCED QUARTERLY PAYMENTS FOR CYS — Senate Bill 640 and House Bill 1157 would provide counties with equalized quarterly payments of 25% with final reconciliation in the fourth quarter. Dauphin County Commissioner Hartwick testified about the quarterly payment legislation in late May before the House Appropriations Committee. Hartwick said that the legislation would &lqduo;make it easier for counties to provide or purchase services without interruption and without having to seek tax anticipation loans to ease cash—flow pressures.”
CHILD ABUSE MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESPONSES —Representative Harhart’s legislation to realize a stable funding mechanism for the work of county—based multidisciplinary responses to child abuse prevention, investigation and intervention, specifically the work of local children’s advocacy centers (CACs) is embodied as House Bill 388. It has been pending in the Judiciary Committee and in previous sessions the legislation has worked its way through the PA House but then stalled in the PA Senate.
CHILD RAPIST & PREDATOR DETECTION ACT — In late February, the House Judiciary Committee convened a public hearing on House Bill 928 — the Child Rapist and Predator Detection Act. The legislation is introduced by retiring Representative Richard Grucela and Republican candidate for Governor Sam Rohrer. The legislation was introduced last session as House Bill 2350. The legislation seeks to address that &lqduo;child rapists and other serious predators avoid detection and punishment,” in part, by &lqduo;strengthening the reporting requirements for entities that are currently required to report any evidence of sexual abuse in girls age 12 or younger.” The legislation would amend the CPSL to say that &lqduo;the presence of a sexually transmitted disease in or the pregnancy of a child 12 or younger shall constitute clear and convincing evidence of child abuse.” The legislation would require health care workers treating a child for a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy &lqduo;to determine whether a child is age 12 or younger.” The health care practitioner would have to report unless they can &lqduo;obtain credible evidence that the child is 13 years of age or older.” There are also DNA collection requirements for babies when the mother is 12 years or younger. Failure of health care practitioners to comply with the varied provisions of the law would constitute a 3rd degree felony (graduated with each incident of failure to comply). Senator Eichelberger has previously introduced companion legislation. Testimony (oral or written) for the February 22nd hearing was offered by: former DA now County Commissioner Bruce Castor, Juvenile Law Center, Pro—Life Coalition, PA State Police Bureau of Forensic Services, PA Children and Youth Administrators, PA Medical Society, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
COSTS STUDY COMMISSION — In December, the Pennsylvania Senate adopted a resolution introduced by Senator Argall calling for the creation of &lqduo;a commission of private and public sector cost—
minded leaders of this Commonwealth to study the management of current government operations and to make recommendations of cost—cutting measures.” That Commission has begun its work on Friday as it works toward prepared recommendations by June 30th. Its recommendations are to identify specific ways to &lqduo;cut costs, increase efficiency, consolidate like functions, return functions and job creation opportunities to the private sector and eliminate functions.” To learn more about the membership of the Commission click here.
DEFINITION OF CHILD ABUSE — Senate Bill 1190 would amend the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) to add a new definition of child abuse related to when a baby tests positive at birth for a controlled substance unless the controlled substance is present &lqduo;as a result of the mother’s lawful intake of such substance as prescribed.” The prime sponsor is Senator Pat Vance. The bill is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
DEPENDENT CHILD DEFINITION — Senate Bill 1191 introduced by Senator Pat Vance would add a definition to dependent child within the Juvenile Act to include: a child who &lqduo; is a newborn and receives a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome or tests positive for any amount of an illegal controlled substance, unless the child tests positive for a controlled substance as a result of the mother's lawful intake of such substance as prescribed. The bill is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
ESSENTIAL PROGRAMS FUND — Senate Aging and Youth Committee Chair Kim Ward has introduced Senate Bill 1127 creating and Essential Programs Fund. The fund would be tapped at a time where a state budget has not been enacted by August 15th to pay up to ninety percent of the amount in the prior fiscal year &lqduo;to the essential programs.” Among the essential programs that would have to be paid for during a budget impasse: subsidized child care, transitional food and shelter programs, foster care and adoption, protective care, access—to—care providers.
DISABLED YOUTH TRANSITIONING FROM FOSTER CARE — Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued policy guidelines stipulating that disabled youth soon to transition from foster care can apply for SSI benefits up to 90 days before their federal foster care payments are expected to cease. The policy is an attempt to ensure that disabled youth exiting foster care can &lqduo;make the transition to adult life by helping to insure that they have income and health benefits in place.” Also last month, Senator Washington introduced legislation (SB 1184) related to required screening by the county of a transitioning youth’s eligibility for SSI. Expectations are that the Senate Democratic Policy Committee will convene a hearing about the issues impacting older youth in and transitioning from foster care next month.
INVOLUNTARY TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS — House Bill 967 sponsored by Representative Cohen amends the CPSL with regard to the grounds for the involuntary termination of parental rights to include when a person has been convicted of rape, statutory sex assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or an attempt to solicitation of these offenses and the victim was the child of the person convicted. This effort seeks to amend the &lqduo;aggravating circumstances” language of the Juvenile Act into the CPSL. The bill also would seek to mirror the Juvenile Act with regard to reasonable efforts not being required when a court has determined there are aggravating circumstances. The bill had been scheduled for a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee but the meeting was canceled as a result of the recent snow storms.
MANDATED CHILD ABUSE REPORTER TRAINING — Senate Bill 1137, which will be the subject of a public hearing of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee on March 11th, requires the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to consult with the Department of Education (PDE) to create &lqduo;a child abuse recognition and reporting program” that includes a training component for school personnel or those under contract with a school entity. Such education related reporters would be required to complete a minimum of three hours of training every five years. The legislation has been endorsed by PA Family Support Alliance and introduced by Senator Pat Vance. POCC offered a letter in advance of the hearing, which can be found on the POCC website.
NOTICE TO EMPLOYERS @ INDICATED/FOUNDED CASES OF CHILD ABUSE — HB 1051 builds upon the effort of Representative Sturla from last session to require that county children and youth agencies provide notice to employers of &lqduo;child care” or school personnel when an investigation of suspected child abuse has resulted in a substantiated report (indicated or founded) of abuse. The notice is to occur (assuming that the CYS agency knows the employment information of the person under investigation) after &lqduo;final administrative determination by the department.” The contents of the report to be provided to the employer must be limited to &lqduo;the employee's suitability in the workplace and to the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the children in the employee's workplace.” On June 3rd, the bill was amended to stipulate that persons seeking to be employed in a school setting cannot be approved for employment if they have a &lqduo;founded” report of child abuse within the five years preceding their application for employment. It also allows that no contest pleas are to be included in the &lqduo;finding” that can be the catalyst to a founded report. The bill has bounced on and off the calendar since that time with its status now being &lqduo;removed from the table” as of January 26, 2010.
PREVENTION COSTS & BENEFIT STUDY — Representative Julie Harhart, who was instrumental to the creation and resulting 2002 recommendations of the Joint State Government Commission’s (JSGC) Task Force/Advisory Committee on Services to Children and Youth, is also now seeking to direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to &lqduo;investigate the costs and benefits of prevention and early intervention programs for the children and youth” of the Commonwealth. House Resolution 72 would require that a LBFC study identify all existing federal, state and county funding streams &lqduo;provided for programs to delinquent and dependent youth, mental health and drug and alcohol services and schools” and then fashion recommendations about &lqduo;how to create incentives for the adoption and implementation of evidence—based prevention, intervention, and treatment programs.” It has been situated in the House Children and Youth Committee since its introduction in 2009.
PROSECUTING CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE — This week the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved Senator Baker’s Senate Bill 260. The legislation provides authority for the Attorney General to lead the prosecution of alleged child sex abuse that occurs across county or state lines. After the vote, Baker said, "When cases of sexual abuse of children cross county lines, it is much more effective to have the Attorney General prosecute those cases. Children will be better protected if the Attorney General has full powers to prosecute offenders for photographing, disseminating or possessing child pornography.”
REPORTING/INVESTIGATING ALLEGED ABUSE BY SCHOOL PERSONNELL — Senator Fontana has unveiled Senate Bill 1243 to once again seek to have the reporting and investigation of suspected child abuse handled the same regardless of the alleged perpetrator. So if there is suspected child abuse by a person employed at a school, ChildLine could accept the report and it would be assigned to CYS for investigation. Currently such reports are able to be handled by ChildLine (and CYS) only if the alleged abuse rises to the level of &lqduo;seriously bodily injury” or involves sexual abuse or exploitation. This reintroduction of Senate Bill 26 incorporates changes advocated by the PA School Boards Association and the Disability Rights Network. Specific to DRN’s advocacy the revised bill would require that when CYS is called in to investigate the alleged abuse of a student who is a disabled child, CYS &lqduo;inform the state protection and advocacy system.”
SEXTING — Legislation is pending in both the PA Senate and PA House to address any legal consequences of Sexting. Current law puts the transfer of sexually illicit photos across a cell phone as a criminal offense — felony offense. So the conviction of a violation of current law obviously has significant legal and life altering consequences for PA’s children and youth. Lawmakers, parents, and advocates are struggling to find the appropriate legislative response. Senator Greenleaf introduced legislation last fall (Senate Bill 1121). His legislation establishes the criminal offense of "dissemination of prohibited materials by a minor" (sexting). It also prohibits a person under 18 from using a computer or other electronic devise to &lqduo;knowingly transmit or distribute a photograph or other depiction of himself or herself or of another minor who is at least 13 years of age, in a state of nudity, to another person who is not more than four years younger or more than four years older than the person transmitting the photograph.” Greenleaf’s legislation grades the offense of sexting as a summary offense and stipulates that the offender would be &lqduo;eligible for a diversionary program which will include an educational component. Meanwhile in the PA House. Representative Grove has introduced House Bill 2189 which would grade sexting as a 2nd degree misdemeanor for juveniles age 13 through 17. A Wednesday meeting of the House Judiciary Committee failed to advance Grove’s legislation forward to the full House. The immediate road forward is complicated by varied advocacy perspectives on how best to address the practice of sexting and concerns that the behavior would have any criminal consequence attached to it. Grove and district attorneys held a press conference on Monday and the DAs also had a guest opinion in the Patriot—News this week. Finally the ACLU and Juvenile Law Center have also taken to the pages of Patriot News to express a differing position.
TRANSITION SERVICES, IMPROVEMENTS FOR FOSTER YOUTH — House Children and Youth leaders Democrat Louise Bishop and Republican Denny O’Brien have are working to improve services for older foster youth who have yet to find permanency. Bishop, O’Brien and their colleagues have introduced House Bill 2297. The bill in part responds to the federal law — Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. PA law already allows youth to stay in foster care until age 21 if they are in a course of treatment or instruction. The state, however, cannot receive federal IV—E funds for these youth after age 18. Fostering Connections allows states to draw down federal funds for these youth if they meet certain requirements. This bill proposes the legal changes that would make PA eligible to draw down those funds. The bill also provides more accountability for the services that are provided to older youth. Consistent with Fostering Connections, it requires that the agency work with the youth to create a transition/discharge plan that demonstrates that the youth will be discharging to a safe and stable situation. Currently, there are no planning requirements or accountability for the services provided to older youth before they discharge. This bill is envisioned to better draw down federal dollars and provide necessary checks on accountability that we do need to make sure what we are providing these youth is having the result we seek. Next week the House Children and Youth Committee will have an informational hearing about the needs, challenges and opportunities for transitioning foster youth. Also next week, Representative Phyllis Mundy will introduce the Children in Foster Care Act.