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Recommendations to Gubernatorial Candidates

The following recommendations have been developed by the Protect Our Children Committee (POCC) — Pennsylvania’s leading statewide coalition dedicated to preventing child abuse and advocating for targeted reforms of Pennsylvania’s child welfare system — for consideration by the 2010 gubernatorial candidates.  To raise awareness about child abuse prevention and to advance the recommendations, POCC met with Mr. Onorato's campaign on September 9th and is scheduled to meet with Mr. Corbett's campaign on October 14th. 

RECOMMENDATION 1: Endorse positive parenting by developing public and private policies and community engagement strategies emphasizing that the health, safety, educational success, and well-being of children are directly impacted by a child’s home life and connection to caring, competent adults.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Improve maternal and child outcomes by increasing the availability of and access to high quality voluntary home visiting services targeting public funds to families most at-risk.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Ensure accountability and secure greater transparency within Pennsylvania’s child welfare system by establishing and adequately funding a state-level independent Child Protection Ombudsperson.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Ensure that all persons mandated to report suspected child abuse receive standardized training in recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Increase the quality and utilization of multi-disciplinary child abuse investigations and interventions intended to insulate a child from further trauma.

RECOMMENDATION 6: Keep Pennsylvania children safe at home and strengthen families by ensuring that public investments in general and child welfare dollars specifically prioritize prevention-focused and integrated services.

RECOMMENDATION 7: Promote permanency for children and youth by elevating policies, practices, and financing strategies so that the removal of a child occurs only as a last resort with minimal trauma and that keeping children connected to a family is supported and incentivized.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Improve the quality of child welfare decision-making by requiring consistent collection and public reporting of relevant data, including documented outcomes achieved for children, youth, and families.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Increase investment in programs proven effective in the prevention and treatment of child abuse, as well as domestic and sexual violence, by maximizing any and all efforts, including raising fee-based revenues and drawing down federal resources.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Ensure access to high quality legal representation for children in dependency and delinquency matters and for parents in child welfare matters.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Strengthen the quality, training, supervision, and retention of the public and private child welfare workforce by implementing policies that meet or exceed national standards and research-based best practices.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Endorse positive parenting by developing public and private policies and community engagement strategies emphasizing that the health, safety, educational success, and well-being of children are directly impacted by a child’s home life and connection to caring, competent adults.

Parenting is one tough job, with direct consequences and long-term effects on children’s success in school, as well as on their overall safety and development. While parenting is indeed rewarding, it is also daunting, even under the best of circumstances. The commitment parents make and the challenges they face to do right by their children are too seldom recognized and too rarely supported.

Pennsylvania’s Governor has a vast array of resources and opportunities to help parents meet the challenges of parenting and to endorse positive parenting.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 1:

  • Develop a statewide media campaign, in partnership with public and private partners including the business and foundation sectors, designed to endorse positive parenting through simple yet effective strength-based messages;
  • Establish a Children and Families Cabinet (e.g., the secretaries of Community and Economic Development, Education, Health, Labor and Industry, and Public Welfare) and an independent non-partisan statewide Commission for Children and Families;
  • Include positive parenting tips on a variety of state produced documents (e.g., payroll checks, motor vehicle renewal notices, public benefit outreach materials, etc.); and
  • Improve the understanding of and ease with which parents can gain information about and referral to critical services.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Improve maternal and child outcomes by increasing the availability of and access to high quality voluntary home visiting services targeting public funds to families most at risk.

Parents remain the first and primary teacher of children. Quality home visiting programs help to build the confidence and competence of parents through teaching them effective parenting skills and connecting parents to supportive services to promote school readiness, positive health outcomes, self-sufficiency and family stability.

The benefits of such programs are linked to a child’s school readiness and success in school. The benefits, however, extend beyond the individual child and family as they work to strengthen our communities by helping to reduce the effects of crime, delinquency, and school dropout and failures.

The PEW Center on the States conducted a cost-benefit analysis of evidence-based home visiting programs and found that for every dollar invested, up to $5.70 is returned on that investment. That return is realized not just in dollars and cents but in the lives of children and families. For instance, in 2008-09, 44 percent of mothers participating in Pennsylvania’s Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) — a program that serves first-time low-income mothers prenatally through the second year of a child’s life — earned their high school diploma or GED. Such positive, measurable outcomes demonstrate the remarkable success of the Nurse-Family Partnership and other home visiting programs.

Despite the demonstrated effectiveness of these programs, funding for NFP is down approximately $1.8 million since 2008 and other quality home visiting programs (e.g., Parent-Child Home Program, Parents as Teachers, Head Start, etc.) have been impacted by state and federal budget decisions.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 2:

  • Maintain current funding levels for NFP in the 2011-12 Commonwealth Budget;
  • Aggressively pursue federal funding through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program created in 2009 via H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with a commitment that such funding will be directed to the programs and services best prepared to meet the needs of the at-risk populations identified in the statewide needs assessment;
  • Emphasize high quality and evidence-based interventions without foreclosing the opportunity to invest in promising practices; and
  • Retain the joint office between the Departments of Education and Public Welfare (the Office of Child Development and Early Learning).

RECOMMENDATION 3: Ensure accountability and secure greater transparency within Pennsylvania’s child welfare system by establishing and adequately funding a state-level independent Child Protection Ombudsperson.

Pennsylvania children, youth, and families benefit from child welfare services delivered by public and private providers as part of a state supervised and county administered system that has a number of strengths. Unfortunately, too often it also does not function as it should to:

  • Effectively assess and assure the safety of a child;
  • Guard the rights of parents, children, and alleged perpetrators;
  • Respond to the calls of mandated child abuse reporters who suspect abuse;
  • Prevent the removal of a child from his/her home or other disruptions when placement is required; or
  • Communicate and share critical information with other public and private partners in the protection of children and youth.

In Pennsylvania alone, in 2009, more than 25,000 reports of suspected child abuse were investigated and over 100,000 children received in-home services. The cost to investigate child abuse and provide comprehensive child welfare services in Pennsylvania exceeded $1.5 billion in 2009. Additionally, since 2002, at least 344 Pennsylvania children have died as a result of child abuse; approximately half of these children were known, in some way, to the child welfare system.

Decisions made and public resources spent have a profound impact on the safety, liberty, and custody of children and families. Currently all mechanisms to respond to child welfare complaints or to report concerns about specific decisions for an individual child or a class of children exist within the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), county children and youth agencies, and their contractors.

This presents an obvious lack of objectivity and independence. Also, there is no obligation for transparency with regard to decision making, nor any requirement to report to the public or the General Assembly.

Pennsylvania became compliant with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 2006, which triggered the establishment of Citizen Review Panels (CRPs). The evolution of the CRPs has been beneficial, but these panels also are not authorized or financed in a way that permits independence.

Legislation in Pennsylvania to create a Children’s Ombudsman or Office of Child Advocate has been introduced for more than a decade. Efforts were bolstered by the recommendations of the 2002 Joint State Government Commission’s Advisory Committee on Services to Children and Youth. In 2008, calls for an ombudsperson were elevated by the findings and recommendationsof a Philadelphia Grand Jury.

Research from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reveals that states with Children’s Ombudspersons situated inside state government accomplish their goals with budgets ranging from $400,000 (6 staff) to $2.5 million (12 staff). Maine operates its Ombudsman via a contract with a private statewide partner at an annual cost of approximately $185,000. Colorado recently enacted legislation and is preparing to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to have a functional Ombudsperson by the beginning of 2011.

Pennsylvania’s finances must not be the singular consideration that permits the postponement or rejection of a Child Protection Ombudsperson. Ultimately children and the child welfare system rely on the generosity, good will, and public trust of citizens willing to report suspected child abuse, to foster and mentor children, and to volunteer their services for the good of neglected and abused children.

Children in need, parents in crisis, and the overall sense of public trust in the child welfare system all benefit from the creation of an independent, impartial statewide Child Protection Ombudsperson.

The specific Policy to Support RECOMMENDATION 3 is the establishment of a state-level independent Child Protection Ombudsperson whose office would be empowered and obligated to:

  • Operate independently from state and local public and private child welfare agencies;
  • Maintain accountability to the Governor, General Assembly, families, and the public through reporting, annual reviews, outreach, and education obligations;
  • Accomplish all duties and obligations while observing all laws of confidentiality;
  • Maintain an impartial complaint investigation process; and
  • Provide meaningful enforcement of decisions.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Ensure that all persons mandated to report suspected child abuse have received standardized training in recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse.

Pennsylvania law mandates that persons who in the course of their professional work come into contact with children must report any suspected child abuse to the child welfare system. These mandated child abuse reporters are essential to ensuring that child victims receive the protective services they need. However, there is currently no requirement that mandated reporters receive the training on the law essential to their ability to identify and act when they suspect abuse.

While any person concerned about the safety of a child can report suspected child abuse, mandated reporters continue to be the highest reporters of suspected abuse.

In 2009, mandated reporters referred over 18,000 cases of suspected child abuse — approximately 75 percent of all reports of suspected child abuse are made by such reporters. School personnel reported the highest number of suspected cases in 2009, with 12 percent of the cases reported substantiated as abuse. Other public and private social service agencies reported the next highest number of cases, with 27 percent of these reports substantiated as abuse. Hospital personnel and law enforcement officials followed in the number of reports made with these reports substantiated at a rate of 21 percent and 17 percent respectively.

In 2007, changes to Pennsylvania’s mandated reporting law resulted in a profound need for additional training of mandated reporters. In order to fulfill their legal mandate, persons mandated to report child abuse must receive proven, effective training by experienced trainers who are adequately funded to carry out the onerous task of training Pennsylvania’s mandated reporters.

This legislative session, POCC supported Senate Bill 1137 introduced by Senator Patricia Vance, which would require training for all school employees as a first step toward required training for all mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. The next Governor should seize this momentum and commit to enactment of legislation similar to Senate Bill 1137.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 4:

  • Timely development and execution of a statewide strategy to assure all mandated reporters have completed a training program and that the Commonwealth directs adequate resources to this strategy; and
  • Engagement of legislative leaders, DPW, and additional cabinet level offices (Departments of Education, Labor and Industry, Health, etc.) and external stakeholders in the development of this strategy, with a particular focus on how mandated reporters can fulfill a child abuse training requirement through a variety of continuing education mechanisms (e.g., Act 48, PA Keystone Stars, licensure and continuing education requirements, etc.) so long as such training complies, at a minimum, with a training curriculum approved by DPW.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Increase the quality and utilization of multidisciplinary child abuse investigations and interventions intended to insulate a child from further trauma.

When a child is abused or reported as a suspected victim of abuse or violence, the Commonwealth and its public and private partners charged with protecting children have a responsibility to minimize further trauma for the child.

A child who has been abused or alleged to have been abused deserves the peace of mind that comes along with limited interviews and physical exams. The approach to fact-finding and to ensuring the child is safe and has immediate and ongoing access to needed treatment and support services must be multidisciplinary.

Non-offending family members should be assured they can bring their child to a child-focused and friendly location where child welfare workers, law enforcement, medical professionals, counselors, and other partners are collaborating to assess the needs of the child, as well as utilizing proven-effective interview techniques to gather the facts.

Children should also be afforded effective court preparation services and, where needed, opportunities to provide court testimony by means other than face-to-face.

Act 127 of 1998 recognized that Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs) are a critical tool for the community in general, not just child welfare agencies, to prevent, investigate, and treat child abuse. MDTs are to be convened in response to the individual case of a child, as well as to evaluate and respond to systemic issues. Despite Act 127, the convening and membership of MDTs, as well as their effectiveness, vary substantially from county to county.

Pennsylvania benefits from a number of nationally accredited Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs), but there is no dedicated public funding for CACs.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 5:

  • Aggressive pursuit of and compliance with the federal Children’s Justice Act (CJA);
  • Establish statewide standards for multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) and Children’s Advocacy Centers; and
  • Support legislation creating a Child Abuse Multidisciplinary Response Account that would dedicate funding to county-based Children’s Advocacy Centers.

RECOMMENDATION 6: Keep Pennsylvania children safe at home and strengthen families by ensuring that public investments, especially child welfare dollars, prioritize prevention and integration.

Children can become engaged in the children and youth services system not only as a result of substantiated child abuse, but also because of risks associated with the health care needs of the child or the parent, housing instability, lack of access to drug and alcohol treatment services, or other social or economic circumstances.

Guarding the safety, health, well-being, and permanency needs of children is not simply a charge to public and private child welfare providers, but rather requires a holistic and integrated approach across the full spectrum of child and family services.

Central to this holistic approach will be an emphasis on prevention and a commitment to keeping children safe at home.

Tools to realizing this approach include effective safety assessments, integrating service delivery at the state and local levels, strengthened communication and collaboration between partners intersecting in the child’s life, and a re-allocation of public resources proven effective at strengthening families and preventing the removal of a child from the home.

Pennsylvania’s Needs Based Budget (NBB) process establishes the reimbursement rates paid to counties for child welfare services. For example, service planning, counseling, protective services, and life skills are reimbursed at an 80 percent rate. At the same time, important services such as placement prevention and legal representation are reimbursed at a much lower rate—if at all. The NBB’s reimbursement rates require re-examination to ensure that the Commonwealth is encouraging counties to invest in effective and evidence based services and practices while also allowing counties the flexibility to innovate.

An effective NBB process would maximize limited public resources into services that are more likely to:

  • Prevent child abuse and neglect;
  • Increase the likelihood that children can safely remain at home via the delivery of in-home and community-based prevention-focused services intended to build the competence and confidence of a parent(s); and
  • Ensure adequate and quality legal representation of children and parents.

Services to prevent and treat child abuse are impacted by budget decisions beyond NBB. For example, the most recent budgetary freeze implemented by Governor Rendell resulted in a reduction of $8.8 million in state child welfare funding but also frozen were $11 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars — funds previously available without a county match to prevent and treat child abuse.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 6:

  • Establish a Children and Families Cabinet;
  • Enlist an independent non-partisan statewide Commission for Children and Families charged with advising and working in partnership with the Children and Families Cabinet;
  • Realign Needs Based Budget (NBB) reimbursement levels to direct more state dollars into counties utilizing programs and integrated services that are prevention-focused and proven to reduce the likelihood the child will be removed from the home; and
  • Retain and strengthen Pennsylvania’s Integrated Children’s Services Plans (ICSP).

RECOMMENDATION 7: Promote permanency for children and youth by elevating policies, practices, and financing strategies so that the removal of a child occurs only as a last resort with minimal trauma so that keeping children connected to a family is incentivized.

Strategic partnerships between the Department of Public Welfare, counties, families, the courts, and private providers are producing results for Pennsylvania children.

The Commonwealth reports that fewer children have been placed in foster care, but the news is mixed considering that:

  • Too few children are placed with relatives;
  • Too many (approximately 25 percent) of youth removed from their home are placed in group homes or institutions and more than 10 percent have a goal of long-term foster care or emancipation;
  • Adoption takes more than 2.5 years on average; and
  • More than 1,000 youth age out of the Pennsylvania foster care system every year without the permanency of a family.

When youth do enter the foster care system, the Commonwealth has a primary responsibility to help them return to their families or find a new family through adoption of guardianship. For youth who remain in foster care, the Commonwealth has an obligation to ensure they are connected to education and other critical services essential to preparing them for a successful transition to self-sufficient adulthood.

Pennsylvania’s Needs Based Budget (NBB) process establishes the reimbursement rates paid to counties for child welfare services. For example, service planning, counseling, protective services, life skills, and foster care are reimbursed at an 80 percent rate. At the same time, essential services such as those that may prevent placement and legal representation are not reimbursed at rates sufficient to reflect their importance to the child welfare service continuum. Similarly, services that are statutorily mandated, such as counsel for parents in dependency matters and counsel for children in delinquency matters, are not reimbursed by the state at all.

Current reimbursement levels do not sufficiently emphasize prevention or permanency for children. An effective NBB process would maximize limited public resources into services that are more likely to:

  • Prevent child abuse and neglect;
  • Increase the likelihood that children can safely remain at home via the delivery of in-home and community-based prevention-focused services intended to build the competence and confidence of a parent(s);
  • Ensure adequate and quality legal representation of children and parents;
  • Promote the placement of an abused child in another family by reducing the reliance on group and institutional placements; and
  • Prioritize the permanence of children and promote the independence of older youth transitioning from the child welfare system.

Recent federal law (the Fostering Connections to Success Act) allows states the option to enhance the support provided to caregivers who are willing to adopt or take guardianship of youth from the foster care system by continuing financial support until the youth turns age 21. It also allows the state to draw down federal funds for the cost of care of youth who remain in foster care until age 21. These options promote permanency and the reduction of placement in out of home care while at the same time providing a safety net for youth who remain in foster care because we have not met our obligation to provide them a family.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 7:

  • Realign Needs Based Budget (NBB) reimbursement levels to direct more state dollars into counties utilizing programs and services that are documented to prevent placement, keep a child connected to a family, and promote permanency;
  • Retain a strong commitment to the Permanency Practice Initiative and Children’s Roundtables;
  • Support enactment of a Foster Child Bill of Rights;
  • Support enactment of a law that would fully implement the Older Youth Provisions of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act to maximize opportunities for older youth in foster care and the families who want to care for them;
  • Continue and enhance the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN); and
  • Provide state funds for reimbursement to counties for legal representation of parents in dependency matters.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Improve the quality of child welfare decision-making by requiring consistent collection and public reporting of relevant data, including documented outcomes achieved for children, youth, and families.

Data collection, as well as analysis and public reporting of such data, are a significant challenge in Pennsylvania’s child welfare system — a challenge complicated by the absence of a statewide automated information and management system.

Emphasizing what data is collected and reported is not a bureaucratic discussion but core to understanding the functioning of and outcomes for Pennsylvania’s children and families providing the foundation for refinement of policy, practice and investment strategies.

Design and implementation of a statewide automated information system, first requires uniformity of how child welfare services are defined so that statewide data elements and outcomes can be effectively tracked and measured.

Another hurdle is that the state currently collects and reports very little data related to General Protective Services (GPS) — child welfare services provided to at-risk children and families where there has not been a substantiation of child abuse. Additionally, where GPS data exists, Pennsylvania has yet to develop concrete ways for counties to share such data to properly inform decision making, particularly during a safety assessment.

Pennsylvania’s discussion of child welfare services is often focused on the state’s reports of suspected child abuse and the number of reports that are substantiated as child abuse. For example, in 2009, there were 25,342 reports of suspected child abuse and 3,943 of those reports (with 3,777 children listed as unduplicated abuse victims) were substantiated as abuse.

These substantiated or Child Protective Services (CPS) cases are, however, only a snapshot of the number of child welfare cases opened for services. Consider that from April through December 2009, there were 57,703 Pennsylvania families (107,290 children) screened by child welfare officials as a result of a call to ChildLine or the county CYS agency. Of those families screened, 20,423 were opened for services triggering child welfare services being delivered to 41,553 children in that nine month period. Data about cases opened for services, including the catalyst to the case being opened, is not readily available, even as it significantly impacts a fuller assessment of the safety and well-being of Pennsylvania’s children and families.

The Commonwealth is working now to implement a Master Client Index (MCI) providing a unique way to identify whether a child is now or has previously received child welfare or other DPW services.

Again, understanding the degree to which a child or family may have intersected previously with the child welfare system is critical to securing a comprehensive assessment of risk. Beyond the need to better define and collect data, including on the allocation of Needs Based Budget (NBB) dollars by service area/category, there must be a stronger commitment to the public reporting of and transparency on child welfare data overall.

For instance, this summer it was difficult to get clarification about a data point issued by the Rendell Administration stating that 9 to 13 percent of calls to ChildLine — the state’s child abuse hotline — were “being abandoned.” Eventually, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) confirmed that 6,099 calls (nearly 9 percent) to ChildLine were either abandoned or deflected (A/D) in the first six months of 2010. By way of comparison, a total of 5,891 (or 4.7 percent) A/D calls were recorded for all of 2009. The public reporting of that data generated discussions that revealed how the elevated rates of A/D calls were due in large part to staff vacancies, an issue that is now being addressed, but may not have been without disclosure of the underlying ChildLine call data that had not been previously available.

Finally, despite enactment of Act 33 of 2008 regarding the public disclosure of fatality and near-fatality review reports when the incident is related to suspected child abuse compliance with law, counties and DPW could improve their compliance.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 8:

  • Ensure uniform definitions of child welfare services and development of a statewide information system;
  • Commit to ongoing implementation and refinement of the Master Client Index and other methods to properly assess the risk for and needs of a child and begin steps to focus on not only collecting “process” data (i.e., number served), but also “outcome” data (what happened as a result of implementing a specific intervention);
  • Improve compliance with Act 33 of 2008, including ongoing, timely, web-based postings of child fatality and near-fatality review reports; and
  • Include additional data within the annual child abuse report (and made regularly available to the relevant standing committees of the General Assembly throughout the year) related, at a minimum, to the operations of ChildLine, the number of cases opened for services differentiating between those that are CPS and those that are GPS cases, and NBB allocations per service category.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Increase investment in programs proven effective in the prevention and treatment of child abuse, as well as domestic and sexual violence, by maximizing any and all efforts, including raising fee-based revenues and drawing down federal resources.

Pennsylvania Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) is dedicated to primary prevention — keeping children safe and families strong so that child abuse and neglect does not occur. CTF provides grants to local community-based programs that have identified innovative ways to prevent child abuse and neglect. Successful CTF grantees engage in cross-system collaboration with local partners, meet demonstrated benchmarks and show economic sustainability through resources beyond CTF dollars.

The CTF is funded through a $10 surcharge on marriage licenses and divorce filing fees. Local grantees can apply for a total grant award of $120,000. Through 2008, CTF directed more than $29 million into locally based child abuse prevention efforts. Unfortunately, in 2009, CTF had insufficient funds to issue its regular Request for Proposal (RFP), resulting in even fewer dollars directed to child abuse prevention.

Similarly, a $10 surcharge on marriage license fees has also been dedicated to community-based domestic violence services. Currently there is not a surcharge on divorce filings dedicated to domestic violence services.

Pennsylvania’s network of domestic violence programs are struggling just to keep their doors open, and the impact on services is dire: More than half of all persons served by domestic violence programs are children accompanying their protective parents, children who are often victimized by the abusive parent, as well. Between FY 2003-04 and FY 2008-09, demand for shelter increased 28 percent and unmet requests for services increased 14 percent. In just the past three years, domestic violence related fatalities have spiked 51 percent, from 121 in 2007 to 183 in 2009. Last year two shelters temporarily closed and more than 100 domestic violence program staff were laid off statewide, even as programs received 3,000 more requests for shelter than the year before. Despite the dramatic increase in demand for services, state funding has remained stagnant or decreased each year since 2003.

While both the CTF and domestic violence programs rely on the revenue generated from these surcharges, the amount of the surcharges has not increased even once in the decades since they were enacted in 1990.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 9:

  • Commit to support efforts to increase the marriage and divorce filing fees directing the raised revenue to CTF’s child abuse prevention grants and domestic violence services; and
  • Retain flexibility with regard to other fees that could be implemented or increased to supplement the Commonwealth’s efforts to prevent, investigate and respond to child abuse and neglect.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Ensure access to high quality legal representation for children in dependency and delinquency matters and for parents in child welfare matters.

The Kids for Cash scandal that unfolded in Luzerne County is a stark reminder of just how quickly justice can be and is denied or jeopardized when parties to court proceedings lack access to legal representation. Together we must safeguard against any similar situations in the future within both the delinquency and dependency systems.

The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care recommended that representation be provided to all parents involved in the child welfare system and that that quality be monitored. The American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Children and the Law, as well as the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, have recommended that states ensure that parents involved in the child welfare system be provided quality legal representation.

Ensuring that parents and children have quality legal representation is critical not just for due process but also for ensuring thorough and fair evaluations of the safety of the child, whether or not the child should be removed from the home, and placement options including earlier identification of potential family or kinship care providers.

In states and localities where all parties in the dependency proceeding are adequately represented by skilled counsel, the path to permanency has been expedited and the length of time in placement significantly decreased. Access to effective legal counsel for both the child and the family is not only about prioritizing the best interest of the child but is also among the necessary strategies for reducing the number for children in placement, resulting in cost savings to the state and counties.

Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act creates a statutory right to counsel for children in the delinquency and dependency systems and parents in the dependency system. Nevertheless, state law is not clear on the mechanism to provide adequate funding for this mandatory representation, nor does any statute or court rule provide any standards of practice to ensure that quality representation is provided by trained and competent counsel.

While the Needs Based Budget (NBB) clearly provides counties reimbursement for representation for dependent children, it is by no means clear regarding funding for the representation of delinquent youth and parents involved in dependency matters.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 10:

  • Support legislation to provide a state-based funding stream for juvenile indigent defense;
  • Support legislation to provide a state-based funding stream for counsel for parents in dependency matters; and
  • Support legislation or enactment of court rules to establish standards of practice for attorneys who represent children in the dependency and delinquency systems and parents in the dependency system.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Strengthen the quality, training, supervision, and retention of the public and private child welfare workforce by implementing policies that meet or exceed through national standards and research-based best practices.

Pennsylvania benefits from the state Child Welfare Training Program — the program where a child welfare caseworker earns certification once they have completed more than 200 hours of child welfare training. Retention of the certificate requires 20 hours of ongoing training each year.

The Training Program is central in our efforts to professionalize the child welfare workforce. While the training program offers a sound curriculum, individuals may begin functioning as a child welfare worker before they have completed any courses. A change in regulation is necessary to ensure that at least 30 hours of training is completed before a caseworker begins working with families.

The Commonwealth’s child welfare workforce educational requirements, however, do not meet nationally established accreditation standards for public or private child welfare workforce. The National Council on Accreditation requires a bachelor’s degree in human services and one year of experience or a bachelor’s degree in social work in order to serve as a front line child welfare worker. The Commonwealth’s current educational requirement is 12 social science college credits and related experience. There is no requirement of even a college degree in order to serve in this critical role working with children and their families.

Additionally, there are several state and national best practice documents that have been developed to structure the effective delivery of public and private children welfare services. These documents currently serve as recommendationsrather than requirements for service delivery in the Commonwealth. Every effort should be made to transition recommendationsinto requirements where financially feasible.

Specific Steps to Support RECOMMENDATION 11:

  • Support legislation to raise the educational standards for children and youth caseworker to create compliance with the National Council on Accreditation workforce standards for public child welfare;
  • Support legislation to require completion of a minimum number of training hours before a caseworker can begin working directly with children and families;
  • Review the Needs Based Budget (NBB) process to establish a state minimum salary for all child welfare workers, regardless of county, with an incentive system established for those who obtain graduate education;
  • Continued support of the Child Welfare Training Program’s (CWTP) training and organizational support components;
  • Fund CWTP to develop “workforce retention” training program for supervisory training series; and
  • Encourage CWTP to develop training consistent with national “best practice” models.

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